Two South Sudanese pastors imprisoned for their faith in the Republic of Sudan since December 2014 and January 2015, respectively, will have the opportunity to answer a judge’s questions in a hearing on July 2.

The hearing could result in continuation of the trial or, if the evidence against them is weak, the charges against them may be dropped, according to a communication received by Presbyterian World Mission from colleagues at Middle East Concern.

Rev. Yat Michael and Rev. Peter Yen Reith, of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, were initially detained without charge by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) in December 2014 and January 2015, respectively. On May 4, 2015, a range of charges were filed against the pastors, some that could result in the death penalty or life in prison if they are convicted.

Immediately following their detention, Michael and Reith were held at a low-security prison. On June 4, they were relocated to a high-security prison with no visitors allowed, including their families and defense attorneys. According to the communication received by World Mission, one person testified at the most recent hearing on June 25, resulting in no new evidence against the pastors.

The Rev. Yat Michael

The Rev. Yat Michael

“The leaders of the South Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church ask the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to stand with them by lifting our collective voices in prayer and advocacy for the pastors’ safety and release,” says Rev. Debbie Braaksma, PC(USA) Africa area coordinator.

Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons and Heath Rada, moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014), sent a letter to Ambassador Donald Booth, U.S. special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, to urge him to pursue diplomatic channels to learn more about the detainment of the pastors and to ensure their human and civil rights are respected fully. The PC(USA) has also reached out to human rights organizations to encourage them to take action to secure the pastors’ release and to urge the government of Sudan to respect diversity and protect religious freedom for all its people.