According to information received by Presbyterian World Mission, two Sudanese pastors on trial for their Christian faith may hear the verdict in their case at an August 5 hearing.
The Rev. Yat Michael and the Rev. Peter Yen Reith of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church have been imprisoned for six to seven months, much of that time they have been denied visits from family or their lawyers. These men are being accused under Sudan’s Criminal Act of 1991. They face several charges, including espionage and undermining the constitution, which are punishable by death or life imprisonment if they are convicted.
The General Secretary of the South Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Philip Obang, maintains the pastors’ innocence of such charges stating that they were carrying out their pastoral duties by preaching the gospel.
On July 1, a third pastor, the Rev. Hafez of the Evangelical Church in Bahri, and attorney Mohaned Mustafa were arrested, briefly detained, and released on bail after challenging a government employee who was overseeing the destruction of parts of the church complex not included in the government order.
In telephone conversations subsequent to the arrest, Hafez stated that he had been struck in on the side of his head during his detention and was in continual pain. Obang shared that this action was used to intimidate Hafez from testifying at the hearing of Michael and Reith.
Amnesty International has documented several cases of individuals being persecuted due to their religious affiliation in Sudan as well as several cases of people sentenced to flogging in Sudan. In August 2013, Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag was convicted and sentenced to be flogged for adultery and to be hanged to death for apostasy because she married a Christian man. She was detained in prison along with her son and gave birth to her daughter in Omdurman prison while in shackles. Ishag was released on June 23, 2014, when her sentence was reversed by an appeals court and due to international outcry.
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. Letters also were sent to President Barak Obama and to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), to draw urgent attention to the pastors’ human and civil rights, as well as the rights of their attorneys. Presbyterians have been involved in the Amnesty International campaign to bring this matter to the attention of Sudanese authorities.
Obang expressed great appreciation for all the PC(USA) initiatives and for the partnership between SSEPC and PC(USA). He shared that the advocacy efforts of Christians around the world have been very effective at bringing international attention to this situation. The U.S. Embassy has been present at the hearings and this provides helpful pressure on the Sudanese government.
“As the situation becomes even more dire,” Obang said, “What is needed is strong advocacy to make pressure on the Sudan government, and that should be publicly and on international media. The advocacy should continue even after the decree if the pastors have not been freed. Public advocacy has good impact.”