JUBA, South Sudan, December 20, 2022 (Morning Star News) – A man suspected of being a Muslim extremist in the ranks of the Sudanese military on Friday (Dec. 16) burned down a church building in eastern Sudan, sources said.
The 20-year-old building of a 100-member Sudanese Church of Christ congregation in El Daoka, Al Qadarif state was set ablaze by a suspected member of the Sudanese Armed Forces, church sources said. The area is more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) east of Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum.
The suspect is a local man who opposed the presence of the church in the area, said the sources, who declined to name him. He was under investigation, said a church attorney, who described the attack as a criminal act that violated religious freedom and was punishable by two to five years of prison.
Sudanese Christians took to social media calling for the arrest of the suspect.
“We condemn this incident in strong terms and call for the government to investigate it and bring the culprit to book,” Osama Saeed Musa, chairman of the Christian Youth Union, said on social media.
Following two years of advances in religious freedom in Sudan after the end of the Islamist dictatorship under Omar al-Bashir in 2019, the specter of state-sponsored persecution returned with the military coup of Oct. 25, 2021.
After Bashir was ousted from 30 years of power in April 2019, the transitional civilian-military government had managed to undo some sharia (Islamic law) provisions. It outlawed the labeling of any religious group “infidels” and thus effectively rescinded apostasy laws that made leaving Islam punishable by death.
With the Oct. 25, 2021 coup, Christians in Sudan fear the return of the most repressive and harsh aspects of Islamic law. Abdalla Hamdok, who had led a transitional government as prime minister starting in September 2019, was detained under house arrest for nearly a month before he was released and reinstated in a tenuous power-sharing agreement in November 2021.
Hamdock had been faced with rooting out longstanding corruption and an Islamist “deep state” from Bashir’s regime – the same deep state that is suspected of rooting out the transitional government in the Oct. 25, 2021 coup.
Persecution of Christians by non-state actors continued before and after the coup. In Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Sudan remained at No. 13, where it ranked the previous year, as attacks by non-state actors continued and religious freedom reforms at the national level were not enacted locally.
Sudan had dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in six years when it first ranked No. 13 in the 2021 World Watch List. The U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report states that conditions have improved somewhat with the decriminalization of apostasy and a halt to demolition of churches, but that conservative Islam still dominates society; Christians face discrimination, including problems in obtaining licenses for constructing church buildings.
The U.S. State Department in 2019 removed Sudan from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) that engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom” and upgraded it to a watch list. The State Department removed Sudan from the Special Watch List in December 2020. Sudan had previously been designated as a CPC from 1999 to 2018.
The Christian population of Sudan is estimated at 2 million, or 4.5 percent of the total population of more than 43 million.
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Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.
Photo courtesy: ©Unsplash/Andy Watkins