Sudan Dismisses Apostasy Charges Against Christians, But Concerns Remain
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
KHARTOUM (Worthy News) – The general prosecutor Sudan’s Central Darfur region has dismissed a case against four Christian men charged with apostasy that previously carried the death penalty, trial observers told Worthy News.
Badar Haroun Abdul-Jabbar, Mohamed Haroun Abdul-Jabbar, Tariq Aref Abdallah, and Mortada Ismael Yousef were charged under Article 126 of the 1991 criminal code and released on bail on July 6, Worthy News learned.
However, the legislation was amended in 2020 to remove the crime of “apostasy” or abandoning Islam. Yet authorities reportedly demanded they renounce their faith in Christ and halt all Christian activities, but the men refused.
The four Christians were initially arrested, questioned, and subjected “to inhuman and degrading treatment” on June 24 in the town of Zalingei in Central Darfur, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
On June 28, they were arrested again and held at the main prison in Zalingei, said Christian advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which closely followed the case.
“On July 3, the men were brought before the prosecutor, who told them they would face the death penalty if they did not renounce their Christian faith and agree not to pray,” CSW recalled.
They also could not “share their faith or participate in any activities that would identify them as Christians,” CSW told Worthy News. However, “the Christian men refused and were charged with apostasy,” the group added.
However, prosecutors concluded that during the civilian-led transitional period, which began in July 2019 and was ended by a military coup in October 2021, the government removed apostasy from the criminal statute books.
And in a significant turnaround, it even passed legislation that made it a criminal offense to accuse any person of apostasy.
CSW’s Founder, President Mervyn Thomas, told Worthy News that his group welcomed dismissing the criminal case against the four men. Yet, it “is regrettable that they have been subjected to this trying legal ordeal when the crime they were accused of is no longer on the statute books.”
He said that CSW calls for an investigation “into the decisions made by the state officials who detained and charged the men.” The inquiry should also look into “allegations that they were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment,” he added.
After the dismissal of the charges, the men are no longer required to comply with bail conditions, Christians said.
The prosecution also ordered the return of belongings confiscated from the men during their arrest, Christians said.
Yet despite their release, the church they had formed, which was approved by the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments, decided to remain closed “due to the threats and attacks” from extremists, CSW added.
Three other churches have reportedly closed in the Zalingei area this year due to increased threats and violence.
CSW quoted confidential sources as saying that church leaders living in camps for internally displaced people were threatened by officials who told them they would face apostasy charges if they continued to meet to pray.
When the leaders protested, citing the legal changes made under the transitional administration, they were informed that the coup had changed the legal situation.
Thomas said that this underscored that despite the men’s release, there was reason to remain “concerned by the deteriorating security and human rights situation in Sudan,” a heavily Islamic nation.
“Reports from the church in Central Darfur that it is not safe for them to reopen, plus reports of other churches that have closed in the last year, are a stark illustration that freedom of religion or belief is under serious threat. We call on the international community to raise these cases directly with Sudan’s military leaders as a matter of urgency,” he added.
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