The General Prosecutor in southwest Sudan’s Central Darfur state has dismissed a case against four young Baptist converts who were charged with apostasy for leaving Islam.
Bader Haroon Abdel Jabaar, his brother Mohammad Haroon Abdel Jabaar, Tariq Adam Abdalla and Morthada Ismail were arrested in June and charged under a law against apostasy that was abolished two years ago. They were released on bail in July and went into hiding due to fear of community and police harassment. One of the men said that local Muslim extremists had called for their death.
At the first hearing of the case at the Criminal Court on 30 August, the judge told the four Christians that the prosecutor had recalled the file and said the charges would likely be dismissed as apostasy is no longer a criminal offence.
Now that the General Prosecutor has dismissed the charges, the four men are not required to comply with bail conditions and the prosecutor has ordered the return of belonging confiscated from them during their arrest.
Their church in Zalingei, capital of Central Darfur state, has decided to remain closed due to threats and attacks from extremists in their community. Three other churches have closed in Zalingei this year due to an increase in threats and violence.
On 24 June 2022, police raided a Sudanese Baptist Church in Zalingei, confiscated Bibles and a sound system and arrested four converts from Islam, Bader Haroon Abdel Jabaar, Mohammad Haroon Abdel Jabaar, Tariq Adam Abdalla and Morthada Ismail. They were questioned and were released the same day. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that the four Christians were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.
On 28 June, the four men were called in to collect their belongings at the police station, where they were detained and questioned further about their faith. They were then charged with apostasy under Article 126 of Sudan’s 1991 criminal code – an article that was abolished in 2020 – and were transferred to Zalingei prison.
On 3 July the men were brought before the prosecutor, who told them they would face the death penalty if they did not renounce their Christian faith and agree not to pray, share their faith or participate in any activities that would identify them as Christians. The men refused, and were released on bail on 6 July.
Following their release, the church building and some of their relatives’ homes were attacked and looted. Police officers reportedly ordered the four Christians to leave the area but they refused and went into hiding while they waited for their court hearing.
Apostasy law abolished
Following the ousting of Sudan’s Islamist dictator President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, advances in religious freedom made by the transitional government (including the repeal of several Sharia-based laws) led to increasing hope for Christians, who had suffered greatly during President Bashir’s regime.
In July 2020, the transitional government decriminalised apostasy, which had previously been punishable by death. However, according to Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List religious freedom reforms at national level were not enacted locally.
After two years of advances, a military coup in October 2021 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, Middle East Concern, Morning Star News, Open Doors World Watch List 2022)