On 29 January, a judge in Khartoum sentenced Czech Christian aid worker Petr Jasek (52) to life in prison for “espionage” (documenting persecution of Christians) and “waging war against the state” (a false allegation of funding rebel movements in areas such as South Kordofan and Darfur). Two Sudanese Christians were sentenced to prison terms of twelve years on charges related to espionage.
The three men (pictured, left to right: Rev Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor, Abdulmonem Abdumawla and Petr Jasek) have been in detention since December 2015.
In addition to his long prison sentence, variously reported as life or twenty years, Jasek was sentenced to six months in prison for “spreading false news aimed at tarnishing the image of Sudan” and fined 100,000 Sudanese pounds (€14,000) for NGO work without a permit. He was also sentenced to one year in prison each for inciting strife between communities, entry into and photography of military areas and equipment, and illegal entry into Sudan, thus totalling 23 and a half years.
The Czech Foreign Ministry said the verdict was without basis and that Jasek was in Sudan only to help Christians. News agency AP reported that a Czech deputy foreign minister will travel to Sudan to try to negotiate Jasek’s release, and that the foreign minister is prepared to go also if necessary.
The same day, the court convicted Tawor and Abdumawla of assisting Jasek in the alleged espionage, for which they received ten-year sentences. They were also sentenced to two years for “inciting strife between communities”. The sentences are to be served consecutively. The court indictment accused the two men of “fabricating videos or incidents of claimed genocide, killing of civilians and burnings of villages, besides claims of persecutions of Christians in Sudan”.
The verdict was pronounced in the presence of many Christians, who reacted with shock and sadness. Taour’s mother fainted with shock and had to be escorted from the court room. Lawyers for the three Christians plan to lodge appeals within the next two weeks.
Background to the case
The case against the three men arose from Jasek’s support for a Sudanese student, Ali Omer, who needed treatment for burns suffered in a student demonstration. Jasek travelled to Khartoum to give the student $5,000 (€4660) towards his medical costs at a meeting organised by Tawor and Abdumawla.
On 10 December 2015, Jasek was stopped and arrested at Khartoum Airport as he attempted to leave Sudan. Security agents searching his bags found the receipt for his donation, signed by Tawor and Abdumawla. He explained that the money was for Omer’s medical costs, but prosecutors alleged it was a donation to rebel groups in the southern regions of South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur. His computer, mobile phone and flash drives were confiscated, and he was found to be carrying electronic information about and photos of Omer’s situation.
Of three Sudanese Christians arrested in association with this case, two (pastors Tawor and Kuwa Shamal) are from South Kordofan, while Abdumawla is from Darfur.
Petr Jasek has a twenty-year background in the medical field, including ten years as a hospital administrator. He has worked to provide care for persecuted Christians in Sudan and Nigeria, including medical care for Christians attacked by Boko Haram.
Sudanese Christians arrested
Abdulmonem Abdumawla, a Christian graduate from Darfur who worked in a mining exploration company in Khartoum, was arrested on 17 December 2015 after he began collecting money to help his friend and fellow Darfuri, Ali Omer.
Rev Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) also donated money for Omer’s treatment, and was arrested at his home on 18 December 2015. Rev Kuwa Shamal (pictured), head of Missions of the SCOC, was arrested the same day, but was acquitted on 2 January 2017 of charges including spying and inciting hatred against the government, and was released.
Most SCOC members, including pastors Tawor and Shamal, have ethnic roots in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan’s South Kordofan state, where the government is fighting an insurgency among groups resisting Khartoum’s rule. The Nuba and other Christians in Sudan face persecution as President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to introduce stricter sharia and to recognise only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
All four detainees were transferred to Omdurman prison in early August 2016, then formally indicted before the Khartoum North Court on 21 August. Court proceedings were at times scheduled almost weekly, but were postponed several times without warning when a witness, translator or judge failed to appear.
In October 2016, the European Parliament adopted an Urgency Resolution calling for the “immediate and unconditional” release of the four men on trial “on charges of highlighting alleged Christian suffering in war-ravaged areas of Sudan”.
In December 2016, courtroom interrogations focused on allegations that a conference the two pastors had attended with other Sudanese church leaders in Ethiopia a month before their arrest had been organised to “damage and tarnish” Sudan’s international image. The National Intelligence and Security Services officer serving as plaintiff in the case said that “national security considerations” overrode several of Sudan’s criminal procedure laws that had been violated throughout the year.
Ali Omer appeared as a witness on 12 December and testified that he had been injured with severe burns during anti-government demonstrations at an Omdurman university. He said that his friend Abdumawla had collected funds for his medical treatment from various organisations and individuals, including Tawor. The defendants were accused of promoting his case abroad to defame the government.
(AP, Morning Star News, Release International, World Watch Monitor)