In a major win for religious freedom, an evangelical pastor from the Church of Christ in Sudan facing the death penalty has been freed. However, three other pastors continue to face charges which could lead to death by hanging or life imprisonment if found guilty.
According to World Watch Monitor, Rev. Kuwa Shamal, who was accused of numerous offenses, including waging war against the state, espionage and undermining Sudan's constitutional system, was released after a hearing in Khartoum on January 2nd after a judge concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge him.
However, another pastor, the Rev. Hassan Abduraheem, remains in prison on suspicion of committing national security crimes with the two other men. If found guilty, the pastor faces the death penalty.
Mervyn Thomas, Christian Solidarity Worldwide's (CSW's) Chief Executive, applauded Rev. Shamal's release, but called on Sudan's government to release the other pastor, as well.
"CSW welcomes the judge's decision to release Reverend Shamal after finding no evidence against him. However we are disappointed that the trial of Reverend Abduraheem, Mr Jašek and Mr Abdumawla continues despite being based on the same evidence that was deemed to be insufficient in Reverend Shamal's case."
He added, "In reality, none of them have committed the serious crimes with which they have been charged. We urge the Sudanese government to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of these men, who have been detained since December 2015, simply for an act of kindness."
Rev Abduraheem and Mr Abdumawla, Sudanese nationals, and Mr Jašek, a Czech citizen, all helped raise money to treat a badly burned young man who had taken part in a student protest in 2013, according to CSW.
Sudanese authorities intercepted the money - around $5,000 - and accused the pastor and his friends of supporting rebel movements in the South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur regions. The three are accused of conspiring against the state, provoking hatred against or among sects and spreading false information - charges they vehemently deny.
Fox News notes that both Rev. Abduraheem and Rev. Shama hail from the Nuba Mountains, a region that continues to be bombed by Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir in an attempt to wipe out the Nuba people because they do not fit the regime's vision of an Islamic nation.
"The government is not interested in the Christian religion. There is no freedom for us, we cannot build churches, we are treated as second-class citizens," the Rev. Andudu Adam Elnail, bishop of Kadugli Diocese, told Fox. "We need the international community to pressure the government of Sudan to give us our freedom of religion."
The next hearing is scheduled for 9 January, when the defense lawyers will present their case. WWM notes that Jašek will be tried for waging war against the state, violating restrictions in military areas, spreading rumours to defame the state, espionage, and inciting strife between communities, while Taour and Abdumawla will only be tried for the last two of these charges.