SUDAN: Judge orders trial of pastors to proceed

On Thursday 2 July, a judge in Khartoum ruled that the case against Pastor Yat Michael and Pastor Peter Yein should proceed. He made the ruling after questioning the two pastors during a full day’s hearing.

The judge questioned the pastors on why they should be involved in Christian ministry in an Islamic country but much of the questioning in court was about documents found on a computer after their arrests. The documents included internal church reports, maps that show the population and topography of Khartoum, Christian literature, and a study guide on the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). All of these materials, with the exception of the internal church report and the study guide on NISS, are publicly accessible materials.

The pastors acknowledged having the internal church report, though both told the judge that they had never seen the study guide on NISS before it was presented in court and had no knowledge of how it got on the computer. Observers fear that the study guide on NISS was placed on the computer by the Sudanese authorities in order to lay the charge of espionage (which carries the death penalty) against the two pastors.

Besides these documents, the only evidence brought by the prosecution against the Christian pastors was a sermon given by Pastor Michael.

The judge adjourned the case until 14 July when the defence will be required to present evidence to demonstrate the innocence of the pastors. Upon hearing the defence case, the judge will review all the evidence and drop the charges or convict the pastors.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Mohaned Mustafa, the lawyer representing the pastors, requested access with his clients – a right that is guaranteed under Sudanese law and international law. However, the judge replied that he only had authority to grant him 15 minutes’ consultation time at the court and that visiting rights at prison are the responsibility of the prison authorities (who have previously denied requests for access).
The lawyer protested that such time is not adequate to prepare a defence, let alone a defence for charges that carry the death penalty. He plans to appeal the matter to the prison authorities and to press that denying access to his clients for preparation of their defence violates Sudan’s constitution.

Mr Mustafa, who represented Meriam Ibrahim last year, was himself arrested on 1 July, the day before the latest court hearing. The arrest occurred at the Evangelical Church in Bahri, Khartoum which is at the centre of this case (Pastor Yat Michael was arrested after speaking at this church in December. The Sudanase government has long wanted to demolish the church building.)

Mr Mustafa was arrested along with the church’s minister, Pastor Hafez. The arrests took place as attempts were made to demolish part of one of the buildings on the church property. The lawyer was driven to the police station but the pastor was made to walk there in handcuffs – a deliberate attempt to humiliate him. During his detention Pastor Hafez was hit on the side of his head with a gun. After his release he needed to go to hospital for x-rays. Both men were released on bail and face charges of “obstructing a public servant from performing the duties of his office.”

(American Center for Law and Justice, Middle East Concern)

TIMELINE

21 DECEMBER 2014 Pastor Yat Michael was arrested after preaching that morning at the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church Khartoum Bahri congregation.

11 JANUARY 2015 Pastor Peter Yein was arrested after delivering a letter to the Religious Affairs Office in Khartoum, enquiring about the whereabouts of Pastor Michael.

28 APRIL 2015 Pastors began hunger-strike in protest at their imprisonment.

19 MAY 2015 Pastors appeared in court to face six charges (two of which carry the death penalty).

4 JUNE 2015 Pastors transferred from a low-security prison in Omdurman to the high-security Kober Prison in Khartoum North, where they were put in separate cells.

15, 18 & 25 JUNE 2015 Court hearings were held but no new evidence advanced.