A Sudanese pastor who was attacked by Islamic extremists has been jailed for a month for “disturbing the peace”.
At a court hearing on 25 April, Pastor Stefanous Adil Kajo of the Sudanese Church of Christ was sentenced to one month in prison, effective immediately, for “disturbing public peace“. He leads a church in Haj Abdallah in Gezira state, 250 km southeast of Khartoum. Pastor Stefanous’ lawyer Shanabo Awad told Morning Star News, “This ruling is not fair and my client is innocent.” The sentence is being appealed.
Pastor Stefanous was leading a Palm Sunday service on 10 April when an Islamist named Ibrahim Kodi disrupted the service and attacked him. Two other men joined in the attack and the pastor was dragged out of the building and beaten. Two women were attacked (one suffered cuts to the mouth and another received injuries to her hand) and the attackers damaged church property including Bibles, chairs and tables. The two women and the pastor required medical treatment and one of the women, Saida Lual (who is in her fifties), has continued to suffer back pain because the attackers pushed her over onto her back.
A police officer among the extremists filed a case against Pastor Stefanous for “disturbing public peace” under Article 69 of the Public Order Law and “public nuisance” (noise) under Article 77 of the Public Order Law. The pastor was detained but later released on bail.
His attacker was also charged with disturbing the peace and was sentenced to a month in prison – during the hearing, at Al Haj Abdallah Criminal Court, Judge Awad Ibrahim Kori explained that his decision to find both men guilty was meant to “prevent religious strife in the community”. This was despite the pastor’s defence lawyers presenting witnesses who testified that he had left the building without fighting back after being attacked by Ibrahim Kodi while he prayed, and Kodi admitting that he had forcibly entered the building and prevented the pastor from praying.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that local extremists from the strict Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam have harassed the church since 2019, noting: “Incidents include the positioning of sound systems outside the building to criticise the church and the filing of complaints against church leaders, accusing them of disturbing the peace and disturbing people of other faiths in the area.”
Local Muslims have repeatedly tried to stop Christians using the building, which is owned by the Catholic church but is used with permission by several Christian and Muslim groups. The group that carried out the attack had previously asked local authorities to close the church and on several occasions church members have been unable to enter the building because it has been padlocked.
On 21 February, church members found the building locked and an order posted (pictured) banning all activities and warning that anyone breaching the order or entering the building would face legal action – it is believed to have been posted by Wahhabi extremists. Church leaders who attempted to enter and hold a service were detained for questioning.
A week later, on 27 February, members again found the building padlocked but were able to enter and began a prayer service. Christian Solidarity Worldwide said police reportedly disrupted the service but allowed them to conclude their prayers, and then detained two church leaders, took them to the police station and interrogated them for several hours before releasing them without charge.
The two detained leaders were Pastor Stefanous and evangelist Dalman Hassan, who said the Muslims had accused church members of hostility toward Islam by holding gatherings on Fridays, the Muslim day of mosque prayer. They had apparently been arrested for breaching the order barring use of the building, but the church continued to meet there as the leaders of a neighbourhood committee had given them access.
On 3 April, the week before the attack, the extremists prevented the Christians from entering the building, so they assembled in the yard to pray instead.
Following the ousting of Sudan’s Islamist president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, advances in religious freedom made by the transitional government, including the abolition of the death penalty for apostasy, led to increasing hope for Christians, who had suffered greatly during President Bashir’s regime.
In October 2021, however, a military coup plunged the country into chaos and led Christians to fear renewed persecution as the allies of the ousted president began to be released from prison and re-appointed to positions of power.
Read more about the situation facing Sudanese Christians in Church in Chains’ Sudan Country Profile.
(Christian Solidarity Worldwide, International Christian Concern, Middle East Concern, Morning Star News, Open Doors, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, Voice of the Martyrs Canada)
Map: Church in Chains Global Guide
Photo credit: Christian Solidarity Worldwide