Like Meriam Ibrahaim, Two Christian Pastors Face Death Penalty in Sudan, Highlighting Persecution There

May 26, 2015 08:17 PM EDT

Attorneys representing two Christian pastors in Sudan who were arrested on charges of spying have stated that they could face the death penalty once their trial begins next week.

According to a report by Lisa Daftari on Fox News, Presbyterian pastors Yat Michael Ruot and Peter Yein Reith, both of South Sudan, are being held on charges of undermining the constitution and espionage; they are currently in the custody of Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services. Their supporters argued that the Islamist government in Khartoum is making an example of the pastors as a way to stamp out Christianity.

"I'm fearful that they will execute these pastors for practicing their faith," David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, said.

Daftari reported that the trial has been postponed to May 31. The pastors were also charged with "inciting organized groups" and "offending Islamic beliefs"; both charges would lead to imprisonment if convicted.

"Ruot, who is from Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, was arrested Dec. 21 after he delivered a Sunday sermon in Omdurman, a Sudanese city across the Nile from Khartoum," Daftari wrote. "Reith, who, like Ruot, is from the Presbyterian Evangelical Church, was arrested Jan. 11 when he was called in by security services and taken into custody."

According to Fox News, their arrest violated international human rights laws because their whereabouts were unknown after that event. However, Ruot's wife noted that the pastors were taken from a police station in Khartoum to a detention center about a month ago.

"We are still worried about their detention," Ruot's wife said to a Christian advocacy group. "Let us continue to pray for them so that God can help them to be released."

Daftari reported that Sudan's NISS is headed by "hardline Islamists who beat, intimidate and arrest the country's Christians." Ever since South Sudan became its own country in July 2011, Sudan stepped up its persecution of Christians; Daftari cited a few examples.

"Last year, the case of Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian woman imprisoned in Khartoum with her child while pregnant, garnered international attention from media and advocacy groups," Daftari wrote. "Ibrahim was sentenced to death for apostasy for converting from Islam to Christianity, but as a result of much international pressure on her case, she was released and permitted to travel to the U.S."

Curry acknowledged that "things are getting more and more difficult in Sudan for Christians." However, he thought that the charges against the pastors were "trumped up."

"These are just good citizens practicing their Christian faith, but the Sudanese government is using any tactic they can to push Christianity out of the market place and out of daily life, and unfortunately they are having some success," Curry said.

Daftari cited sources claiming that NISS officials have demanded $12,000 from the Church for the release of the pastors. However, local church leaders have refused to pay, prompting Sudan's intelligence agency to arrest even more Christians and make similar demands.

"Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a hard-liner, vowed to make Sudan a fully Islamic state operating under the strictest interpretation of Sharia Law, acknowledging only the Muslim religion and the Arabic language," Daftari wrote.

According to Daftari, Sudan's government announced back in April 2013 that no new licenses would be approved to build or establish new churches in that country. In making good on their threats, Sudan has deported Christians from foreign countries and had no problem destroying churches.

"Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a 'Country of Particular Concern' by the U.S. State Department as of 1999, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended the country remain on the list in its 2015 report," Daftari wrote.