Sudan (MNN) — The 15-day window for appealing the life sentence against Petr Jasek is closing.
On January 29th, according to Middle East Concern, a Sudanese court sentenced the Czechoslovakian aid worker to life in prison for espionage, six months in prison for spreading rumors that undermine the authority of the state, a fine of 100,000 Sudanese Pounds (approximately USD $16,000) for undertaking NGO work without a permit; and one year in prison each for inciting strife between communities, for entry in and photography of military areas and equipment, and illegal entry into Sudan.
At the same time, Rev. Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour and Mr. Abdulmonem Abdumawla were each sentenced to ten years for abetting Jašek in the crime of espionage, and one year each for inciting strife between communities and spreading rumors that undermine the authority of the state (even though the legal maximum penalty for this last crime is six months in prison).
It was an unexpected response, given the release of a fourth Christian leader who, earlier in the month, was facing the same charges. The decision has caused uproar. The European Parliament called for the unconditional release of the men and the Czech Foreign Ministry has condemned the verdict and is expected to intervene.
Miles Windsor is the Advocacy and Development Director at Middle East Concern. Of the appeal process, he says, “I think there’s been a delay in that appeal to take into consideration some other sensitive conversations I believe are happening. We’re reasonably optimistic, especially for Petr. I think there’s reason to be hopeful, although we need to keep praying for them, obviously.”
This is a case that has created some sensitivity. Windsor explains, “There is a tension between the government and the national Intelligence and Security Services. The national Intelligence and Security Services are far more pro-active in seeking to persecute Christians and to shut down churches. The government, obviously, is keen to improve its relations with the international community, I believe. Certainly these cases embarrass the government, especially when there’s so much international attention.”
The Sudanese government is led by Omar Al Bashir. His government has a history of severe persecution of ethnic and religious minorities that includes Christians. That only intensified following the separation of South Sudan, when he vowed to replace the current constitution with one much closer to Islamic Sharia law. As a result, he’s been indicted for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide by the International Criminal Court.
Given the bent of the government, places of worship and churches are under extreme scrutiny in Khartoum. It doesn’t stop with strict regulations, though.
“Another issue we’re aware of is plans to shut down about 25 churches. There have been developments in that regard, and that’s another legal situation which is likely to develop soon.” In separate cases in Khartoum, a judge recently ruled that four churches facing demolition orders should be represented by a lawyer, chosen not by the churches, but by the Sudanese authorities. The same applies to a further 21 churches facing the threat of demolition.
Is it true religious persecution, or are these orders seen as an effort to bring illegal gatherings in line? Windsor says, “They’re not specifically saying they’re targeting churches, but that’s without a shadow of a doubt. As I say, there are 25 churches that currently have demolition orders against them.”
He goes on to say there have been a number of cases in which the government has intervened in church government. However, that’s so they can “…sell off bits and pieces of land. There’s a particular case of a church which the government has taken a ‘salami slicing’ approach to taking land and demolishing parts of the church compound.
“It’s a steady process of removing Christianity from the country, essentially.”
While thousands have fled Sudan and taken refuge in neighboring countries, Windsor confirms there is a remnant Church. “A great many are able to stay and continue their work, and are determined to be promoting the Gospel there and continuing in their work.”
Considering the situation facing Jasek, Rev. Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour and Mr. Abdulmonem Abdumawla, and the threats to other churches, the term ‘treacherous’ could be use to describe the conditions believers face daily in Sudan. What can be done? Windsor says we can advocate. Share these stories. Make other Christians aware of what’s happening in other countries.
Once you start sharing the story, share the burden. “It should be said that the prayers of believers are so hugely appreciated and felt by the people in the situation. They are asking for continued prayer to stand firm, to continue to serve, and to reflect the Gospel in their lives.”