After the mainly Christian South voted to secede from Sudan in January 2011, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir made it clear that the North would become 100% Islamic, with the place of sharia law being strengthened. Christians in the North were fearful about their future there, and their fears are now being realised with what appears to be the systematic destruction of the remaining Christian presence in the North, which is 98% Muslim. Churches are being demolished, Christian institutions closed, Christians arrested, foreign Christian workers deported and literature seized.
Bashir, who has been in power since leading a successful coup in 1989, introduced sharia law in Sudan in 1991. He has been under pressure recently from Islamists who feel his government has not been sufficiently hard-line and has given up the values of the 1989 coup.
After the secession of the South, where the North had fought to impose sharia law in the long and bloody civil war that ended in 2005, harassment and attacks against Christians in Sudan steadily increased. But towards the end of 2012, these developed into a targeted and ruthless campaign.
Deportations and Arrests
It began with a media drive against alleged “Christianisation”, which included reports in the state-controlled press that foreign missionaries were planning to convert Muslims. Following a story that a Muslim girl had been baptised, numerous foreign workers were deported, reportedly around 100 people.
Sudanese Christians have also been detained. Last month at least 55 Christians were arrested, falsely accused of receiving money from foreign countries.
Those involved in Christian ministry are particularly vulnerable. A number of church leaders have been arrested and youth group leaders summoned for interrogation. Upon their release, at least three youth group leaders were ordered to report to the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) offices on a daily basis.
Numerous church buildings have been demolished. In mid-January, seven in the Khartoum area were destroyed over the course of just two days.
The authorities are using the pretext of paperwork irregularities to flatten churches. And while Sudanese Christians admit that some churches were built without official permission, they say it was almost impossible for them to obtain approval.
One pastor, whose church building on the edge of Khartoum was demolished just before Christmas, said:
The government says the land was owned by some businessman, but I think they destroyed our church because they want to target Christians.
Christian Centres Targeted
In addition to churches being removed, several church-run institutions such as orphanages, schools and community and health centres have been closed. A Christian primary school in Khartoum has been ordered to shut at the end of the academic year in April because it does not teach Islamic studies and does not separate male and female students.
Three members of staff at a school that provided English-language lessons for adults were arrested and interrogated over suspicions that they were evangelising Muslims. The centre was closed.
On 18 February, state security agents raided the Evangelical Literature Centre, which is part of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, and seized all the books, films and archives. They said that they were acting on “orders from above”. A church leader was beaten up for taking photos and arrested the following day.
This incident followed raids on two other places, a bookstore and an academic institution, where Christian books and literature were also confiscated.
Despite the mounting evidence to the contrary, officials strongly deny a clampdown on Christianity. Rabie Abdelati, a senior official in President Bashir’s National Congress Party, said:
"All religions can practise their faith in total freedom. There are no restrictions at all.
But human rights observers do not agree. A Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch said, “We have seen clear signs of rising intolerance for religious and ethnic diversity since the separation of South Sudan.”
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said:
"Sadly, it was only a matter of time before President Bashir began to deliver on his vow to strengthen the Islamic character of Sudan following the secession of the mainly-Christian South. And the Church, as Christians understandably feared, was always going to be one of the primary targets of this campaign. Bashir continues to demonstrate the ruthless disdain for human rights that has previously seen him charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity. The rights of all Sudanese citizens must be upheld, including the Christian minority."
[Article taken from BarnabasFund.org]