SUDAN: ‘WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY’ TO END CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION – RELEASE INTERNATIONAL
As upheavals in Sudan continue, Release International sees a window of opportunity to end the persecution of Christians in that country.
Protesters in Sudan are continuing to demonstrate for a civilian-led democracy, following last Thursday’s coup that ousted Omar al Bashir after almost 30 years in power.
Since then, the military council behind the coup has replaced generals unacceptable to the demonstrators, who have continued to protest on the streets.
Peaceful demonstrations culminated in the surrounding of military headquarters in Khartoum demanding the president step down. The demonstrators say they will continue their protests until the military gives way to civilian rule.
UK-based Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, sees a window of opportunity to end the violence against Christians in Sudan and for religious freedom.
‘This could be a turning point where all that could change,’ says Release CEO Paul Robinson.
‘These are encouraging steps. But the next step must be to allow full religious freedom in the country. Without true freedom of belief and association, Sudan will continue to be one of the most repressive states in the world today.
‘Handled well, this could be a window of opportunity for Christians in Sudan, who have suffered immensely for many years.’
Christians have faced the heaviest oppression in the Nuba Mountains, where the government has been driving out minority groups in a programme of ethnic cleansing.
Elsewhere in Sudan, President General Bashir demolished churches and arrested and removed church leaders. The authorities commonly refused permission to build churches and seized church property.
Some saw the church demolitions as a concerted campaign against evangelical churches. It remains illegal to convert to Christianity. Muslims who change their faith can be prosecuted for apostasy and killed, and students can be arrested or expelled for talking about their religious beliefs. Critics of the government’s policy on religion have come under surveillance and risk punishment.
The direction of travel has been to implement ever-stricter Sharia (Islamic law) and tighter restrictions on religious freedom.
‘All of that must change,’ says Paul Robinson of Release. ‘And we call on the new leaders of Sudan to implement full religious freedom and take their place among the free, democratic nations of the world. Right now, the world is watching and hoping. This is an opportunity for change and we call on Christians everywhere who enjoy freedom of worship to pray for our brothers and sisters in Sudan.’
There have been encouraging signs. The Chief of the Military Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has made conciliatory moves towards the protesters. He has referred to the sacrifices of the Sudanese people and their ‘peaceful revolution.’ He has also released hundreds of political prisoners.
It is almost 30 years since former leader General al-Bashir seized power in an Islamist coup in 1989. He later gave asylum to Osama bin Laden. Although there are two million Christians in Sudan, General Bashir operated an Islam-only policy, banning all other religions.
He is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. His regime stands accused of killing around 400,000 people in the Darfur region and driving out 2.5million. The International Criminal Court in the Hague has issued a warrant for his arrest, but so far the military council that has taken power is refusing to extradite him to face trial.
Last year, Release hosted a visit to the UK by a co-worker, Petr Jasek, a Christian activist who was accused of spying and sentenced to death in Sudan. He was trailed by secret police and caught photographing churches demolished by the state.
Petr Jasek was eventually released after an international outcry. Since then, he said the persecution against Christians in Sudan had been getting steadily worse.
Sudan has been listed by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom among the world’s ten worst violators of religious freedom.
Release International is standing with Christians in Sudan’s war-torn Nuba Mountains, where the government has been imposing a humanitarian blockade for the last nine years, which has contributed to severe famine.
The government has also carried out bombing raids that have targeted relief workers, including Release International’s partners. Through its partners Release is helping more than 80,000 people affected by the bombing, repairing boreholes, providing medical supplies and distributing Bibles.
Through its international network of missions Release International is active in more than 30 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice.
Listen to an interview with Petr Jasek here
USCIRF report on Sudan here