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Wednesday 24 April 2013

Sudan: Religious Intolerance Rares its Ugly Head

Recent developments in the mainly Muslim Republic of Sudan point to the beginning of well orchestrated religious intolerance through the repression of Christian churches. The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and endowments Al-Fatih Taj Al Sir announced in Khartoum on 19 April, during a speech to Parliament, that no new licences will be issued for building churches, saying that the existing churches are more than enough for the faithful, indeed, that many churches are being abandoned. He however assured that freedom of religion will be respected.

Already in early 2012, security agents had raided the library of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Sudan, which had been founded in the center of the Sudanese capital over a hundred years ago, to "control the content of the books." Then in April of the same year a violent crowd had entered the premises of a Presbyterian church in Khartoum, burning Bibles and looting everything. In June, in Khartoum, two bulldozers sent by the Ministry of Planning destroyed two buildings belonging to the Episcopal church, saying that the faithful had no right to occupy the land.

The World Council of Churches in Geneva reported that many orphanages and some schools affiliated to the Christian churches were closed in 2012.

Since last December, signs of repression against Christian churches have intensified, after Hudo (Human Rights and Development Organization) had reported that the Nuba Christians were systematically subjected to discrimination by local authorities in South Kordofan (the area known as the Nuba Mountains).

At the behest of governmental authorities, a church in a suburb of Khartoum was demolished a few days before Christmas.On December 20, two priests of the Coptic Orthodox Church were arrested for having prepared the conversion to Christianity of a Muslim woman.

On April 12, the secretary general of the Bishops' Conference, Father Santino Maurino Morokomomo, a national of South Sudan, was expelled , almost simultaneously with the closing of a Catholic institution, the Catholic Institute of Language Khartoum (CLIK) working since 1986 for ' teaching of the missionaries, but in recent years it was frequented mostly by lay students. This was followed immediately by the expansion of the two missionaries who ran the CLICK , French Father Michel Fleury and the Egyptian Hossam Brother, both the congregation of the Brothers de la Salle, whose activity, it is said, had long been monitored by the secret services. 

Church authorities do not want to blow the matter out of proportion, but it is now clear with the last Ministerial Declaration is an ongoing a real change in the policy of the Sudanese government against Christians.

Ever since it became clear in 2011 that South Sudan would vote for secession, the government in Khartoum threatened the introduction of Islamic law, sharia, in the north, that in consequence would affect the southerners living in the north.

The actions in recent months could be the preparation for the non-renewal of residence permits for missionaries to get to a de facto expulsion reason.  If Christians decrease, if the churches are empty, logic dictates that the missionaries are useless, and that the government is justified in not renewing their permits.

The reality is a bit different. From the west (Darfur) to the east (Southern Blue Nile) across the Nuba Mountains and even the outskirts of Khartoum, sympathy and support for the Christian churches is clearly growing. In some cases, such as the Nuba Mountains, conversions to Christianity are in considerable increase , and the Khartoum government sees huge concern with this phenomenon; the areas most hostile to its policies become progressively more Christian. The decision to intensify the crackdown and to move toward Saudi Arabia- like laws will only to grow tensions.

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