Sudan (MNN) — The president of Sudan, Omar al Bashir, has promised to step down in 2020.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, responds: “I think my first thought is, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’”
Bashir’s announcement has been dominating the headlines in the region. He seized power by military coup in 1989, ousting the democratically-elected Prime Minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi. Last April, he won the elections again.
Will he really leave office in four years?
Nettleton’s skepticism is backed up by history. “The history of dictators ‘retiring’ and moving into some other retirement, there are not a lot of examples of that happening. So, the thought of him willingly giving up power after he has worked so diligently to hang onto power — that’s hard for me to imagine.”
Despite his seeming popularity with the Sudanese, widespread human rights abuses by the government and armed groups are a daily occurrence in Sudan. The trend is nothing new.
A history of hardship
Sudan continues its designation as a “Country of Particular Concern” by the U.S. State Department. Press and media laws have been restrictive, and freedom of expression and religion has been highly curtailed.
Under his Administration, Darfur’s conflict began. In 2004, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell determined that the Sudanese government and its proxy militia were engaged in genocide.
By 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on seven charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is the first time the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state. Nettleton says, “It’s hard to know how that may play into him stepping down, or not stepping down, but he is an indicted criminal by the International Criminal Court. He does face those charges if ever he can be brought to stand before that tribunal.”
This is what earned him an indictment: although the conflict in Sudan has recently been less intense than it has been in the past, all sides to the conflict continue to commit violations of international humanitarian law. Violence against women remains widespread, particularly in Darfur in and around camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Bashir and persecution
The persecution of Christians in Sudan is systematic and more reminiscent of a policy of ethnic cleansing.
Historically, Islam is deeply embedded in Sudan’s society. In fact, in 2010, shortly before the 2011 referendum in which South Sudan became the world’s newest country, Bashir promised that Sudan would remain faithful to Sharia (Muslim law). The government of Sudan is strictly implementing the policy of one religion, one culture and one language. Nettleton says this means, “The persecution of Christians since the separation of the two countries in 2011 has really ramped up. The Sudanese government has taken pro-active steps to bring the Church under control, or even force Christians out of the country.”
For example, ”There are reports of two pastors being held since mid-December—not allowed to see their families, not allowed to see their lawyers and not charged or brought before a judge.” Everything about their civil rights has been violated.
Then, there’s harassment. “There’s a report from the World Watch Monitor about five pastors that are required to report in every single day to the Intelligence Police, account for their whereabouts, account for their activities and then come back the next day and do the very same thing.”
Although the constitution guarantees religious freedom, unofficially, Islam remains the state religion. Apostasy is punishable by death under the government’s Shariah law.
VOM remains committed to providing the help they need in order to continue telling Muslims about Christ. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, Nettleton reminds us.
“I think we can pray for a sense of encouragement and a sense of God’s presence with them, and that they would know people are praying for them–that God would allow them to know, ‘Somebody’s praying for me right now,’ and that they would not lose faith and lose hope, even in a very difficult situation.”