In this season of celebration and contemplation, we are publishing a series of articles about Christians who are imprisoned and in some cases threatened with death because of their beliefs. Such religious persecution is not limited to Christians. Indeed the most intense fury of zealots like those of the so-called Islamic State is directed against fellow Muslims deemed heretical. But Christians find themselves targeted not only for their faith, they are treated as symbols of the West, even if their history in a country like Egypt goes back millennia. Thus ISIS hopes attacks like the suicide bombing of a Coptic cathedral in Cairo earlier this month will help draw clear battle lines between Islam and what it calls “crusaders”—the soldiers who bear the cross. A few cases like that of Asia Bibi, a mother of five now serving her seventh consecutive Christmas in jail in Pakistan on blasphemy charges, have drawn international attention. But many others have not. As advocacy groups have made clear, Christians are under pressure from non-Muslim Mexico to non-Muslim China, but they face the most ferocious persecution in the Muslim Middle East, South Asia, and parts of Africa.
For more than 365 days, two Sudanese pastors, a Czech aid worker, and a Sudanese civil rights activist have seen their loved ones only at court sessions and only in passing, says the Rev. Kuwa Shamal, one of the detained pastors who spoke to Nuba Reports by phone from prison.
“We are considered to be spies,” said Shamal, who shares a cell at Al Huda Prison in Omdurman with fellow pastor Hassan Abdelrahim. Both are from Sudan’s Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan State, where civil war has raged for the last five years.
The four suspects face seven separate charges including espionage, waging war against the state, and provoking hatred among sects. Yet human rights observers and religious leaders say the case is baseless—just the latest example of growing persecution of Christians in the Islamic country since the 2011 secession of South Sudan.
“They don’t have any political relationships, their work is religious and they are not supposed to be arrested for simply spreading the gospel,” said Pastor Emmanuel Ofendi, who runs the Cush Theological College in the Nuba Mountains. “We send our message to the whole world of what is happening—to release these men. They have done nothing wrong.”
Sudanese national security in December 2015 arrested the two pastors and civil rights activist Abdelmoneim Abdelmoula at home. Petr Jasek, an aid worker from the Czech Republic, was on his way out of the country when authorities detained him at Khartoum International Airport.
The court case began in August, more than eight months after the men were first detained. According to defense lawyer Muhanad Nur, the arrest stems from state suspicions that they are trying to encourage Muslims to convert to Christianity and for publicly speaking out against the ill treatment of Christians in Sudan.
Both pastors can speak from past experience about state-led targeting of Christians and Christian institutions. In June 2014, the state demolished Shamal’s church, the Sudanese Church of Christ in Thiba Al Ahamida, Khartoum North, claiming the land was reserved for a private hospital.
Land authorities rejected ownership documents he presented, including receipts of fees paid for the church over 30 years ago. Incredibly, authorities visited him on a Sunday before they leveled the church, requesting that he sign a document calling for the church’s demolition.
“I refused to sign the paper,” Shamal said over the phone from prison. “How can someone come to us asking us to demolish our own church?”
The following day vehicles and a bulldozer accompanied by dozens of police, military, and security personnel came and tore the building down. Now, the 400-odd parishioners worship in the open air despite repeated requests to many government ministries for permission to rebuild their church.
The Sudan government has demolished at least six churches since 2011, according to Morningstar News, a faith-based news service that monitors Christian persecution. In the last few months, authorities have demolished a popular Christian school serving Christian and Muslim students alike and detained the school staff twice for resisting their school’s destruction.
And more churches are sure to face challenges in the future. In August, the Chief of Office for the Khartoum State Ministry of Planning rejected a request from the Sudanese legal firm, the Justice Centre for Advocacy and Legal Advice, calling for an end to state-sanctioned church demolitions in Khartoum State. Instead, the state ministry issued a letter ordering four churches to be demolished in Khartoum. The officer accused the four churches, based in Al-Baraka, Al-Bashir, Arta Kamul and Dar el Salaam Jedidah of being built too close to “community areas.”
Several days ago, Merkel may have walked on her own into one a potentially career-ending, political traps as she prepares to runs for her fourth term as Chancellor in 2017, when she said has said "it would be particularly repulsive if a refugee, seeking protection in Germany, was the perpetrator" of the Monday Christmas market terrorist attack.
Alas, despite having already been slammed by her political opponents, such as AfD's Frauke Petry, who have long claimed that any and all terrorist attacks on German soil are the direct result of Merkel's open door policies (the AfD and other anti-immigrant groups held a silent vigil outside Merkel's office in Berlin on Wednesday night to protest her refugee policies), it looks as if by even Merkel's own admission her government failed at every step to capture the Tunisian terrorism suspect - who we know by now was indeed a refugee seeking protection in Germany, even if it was not granted - despite having had ample opportunities.
According to Ralf Jaeger, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Amri arrived in Germany in July 2015 as the influx of asylum-seekers was nearing its peak. Although registered in the west of the country, near the Dutch border, Amri had moved around Germany regularly since February, living mostly in Berlin, said Jaeger. Within months of his arrival, authorities had added Amri to a growing list of potentially violent Islamic extremists, not all of them asylum-seekers.
"In my view we experienced a major shift on Monday," said Stephan Mayer, a member of Merkel's center-right bloc. "Terrorism has reached a new level in Germany. It's shaken the nation and citizens are worried. I think citizens wouldn't accept it if we simply returned to the political order of the day."
Senate Homeland Security Chairman: "The CIA refused to provide us with a briefing on the issue of Russian hacking"
The Washington Post’s owner Jeff Bezos also received a $600 million contract from the CIA to build a private cloud for the agency’s data needs? Hmm…
Having concluded the evacuation of rebels from their last enclave in the eastern part of the city, the Syrian army said Aleppo has returned to government control, ending the 4-year rebel control over parts of the city that years ago was the largest metropolitan center in Syria and is now a landscape out of Call of Duty. The evacuees have been taken to rebel-held territory in the countryside west of Aleppo and in Idlib province.
In a statement on Syrian TV, the army announced the "return of security to Aleppo after its release from terrorism and terrorists".