The trial of Pastor Yat Michael (49) and Pastor Peter Yein Reith (36) is continuing despite a lack of evidence against the two men. No new evidence was brought at the last two hearings on 15 and 18 June.
On Monday 15 June, the same two officials of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) who testified previously offered the same weak evidence as before, a relative in the courtroom stated. A defence lawyer asked the NISS officials to produce evidence for the charges, including spying (Article 53) – which, along with “undermining the constitution”, is punishable by death or life imprisonment – and waging war against the state (Article 51), which calls for the death penalty. “When the two witnesses were asked by the defence lawyer, they could not answer the question,” the relative said.
The pastors are also charged with disclosure and receipt of official information or documents (Article 55); arousing feelings of discontent among regular forces (Article 62); breach of public peace (Article 69); and offences relating to insulting religious beliefs (Article125).
Pastor Yat Michael was arrested on 21 December 2014 after visiting Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church, which has been embroiled in a land dispute with the government, to preach and encourage the congregation. He is from Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
Pastor Peter Yein Reith was arrested on 11 January after submitting a letter from leaders of their denomination, the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, inquiring about Pastor Yat Michael. The trial of the two pastors began on 22 May.
At the hearing on Thursday 18 June, the prosecution produced one person who gave testimony, but again brought no new evidence against the pastors. The next hearing is due to be on Thursday 25 June. The prosecution said they have two more witnesses to give testimony.
In the legal process the next step is for the judge to make a preliminary ruling on whether he believes there is any basis for the charges against the two pastors. If there is no basis, he will drop the charges and the case will be finished. Otherwise he will allow the case to proceed to trial.
The defence lawyer believes the judge will make this ruling at the next hearing on Thursday 25 June and, although there is not really any evidence against the pastors, the lawyer expects that the judge will allow the case to proceed to trial.
Pastors being held in chains
On 4 June, the two pastors were transferred from a low-security prison in Omdurman to the high-security Kober Prison in Khartoum North, where they are being held in separate cells. Relatives said the church leaders were in chains as they were brought to their cells.
The harsh conditions under which the pastors are currently held raise particular concerns for the wellbeing of Pastor Yat Michael, who had travelled to Khartoum for medical treatment on 13 December, the day before his arrest, and has not seen the relevant medical professionals.
Prison administrators told family members the church leaders were transferred to the high-security prison, and that relatives were forbidden to visit them, because of actions – possibly taking photos – by some foreigners who had visited them.
NISS has assigned them to separate cells to put more psychological pressure on them, sources said.
“Please Pray For My Husband”
Mary Simon, the wife of Pastor Yat Michael, has spoken about her last visit to her husband. “I was able to visit him last Wednesday [3 June], but he was moved to another place in the prison soon after a foreigner visited and took his picture. Now, no one is allowed to see him anymore.” Despite his ordeal, he is in good physical health. “Physically, he looked fine and his spiritual life is also strong.”
The couple has a son (3) and a daughter (2) who are staying with their grandparents. “My children are doing well,” said Mary. “They are young but they know that their father is being held by police. They miss and keep asking for him.” She also reported that Pastor Peter’s wife is “strong and giving thanks to God even though the situation is difficult”.
“I thank God for what is happening to my husband and only pray that God may be glorified even in this temptation. Romans 8:31 says: ‘What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?’ It is giving me hope to hold on.
“Please ask the brethren to pray with me for my husband to be released and we can be united as a family. My heartfelt desire is to be together with my husband and children again. Pray also for the children as I am also away from them.”
(CSW, Middle East Concern, Morning Star News, Open Doors)