Sudan: cause for celebration and prayer

Sudan (MNN) — When Czechoslovakian Voice of the Martyrs aid worker Petr Jasek was released from Sudan on February 26th, the big unanswered question was: ‘What about the two Sudanese men who weren’t released?’

Petr Jasek, pardoned in Sudan (Photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs)

On Thursday, God answered that prayer.  Middle East Concern’s Miles Windsor shares, “The two men who were remaining in prison have been released with a presidential pardon.  That’s Rev. Taour and Mr. Abdumawla.”

Here’s the timeline:

Rev. Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour and Mr. Abdulmonem Abdumawla were arrested in December 2015, along with Rev. Kuwa Shamal Abazmam Kurri and Mr. Jasek, a Czech national.  All four were charged with “espionage”, “inciting strife between communities”, and several other offences.
On January 2nd, 2017 Rev. Shamal was acquitted of all charges.
On January 29th, 2017 the court sentenced Mr. Jasek to life imprisonment for espionage, six months’ imprisonment for spreading rumors undermining the authority of the state, a fine of 100,000 Sudanese Pounds (approximately $16,000 USD) for undertaking NGO work without a permit, and to one year’s imprisonment for each of the following charges (sentences to be served consecutively): inciting strife between communities; entry into and taking photos of military areas and equipment; and illegal entry into Sudan.  However, he received a presidential pardon and left Sudan on February 26th.
On January 29th, 2017 Rev. Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour and Abdulmonem Abdumawla were each sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for abetting Mr. Jasek in the crime of espionage, and to one year’s imprisonment each for inciting strife between communities and spreading rumors undermining the authority of the state (even though the legal maximum penalty for this last crime is six months’ imprisonment).  All of these sentences were to be served consecutively.  Since that date, they have been serving their sentences in prison while their lawyers appealed against the verdict.

Instead, the two men were released from prison Thursday afternoon (local time in Sudan) after receiving a presidential pardon.  While MEC and many other partners are thrilled with the results, Windsor says it seems the logical conclusion to this saga.

(Photo courtesy of Middle East Concern)

“He (Jasek) was the key defendant in that case.  The charges against the others were mostly in relation to him and the charges against him.  Given that he received a presidential pardon several months ago, it didn’t make sense that they (Taour and Abdumawla) were continuing to be held.”

When asked what prompted the pardons, Windsor could only speculate.  The situation is so new that the details are still unfolding.  However, international pressure from the Body of Christ played a critical role.  Other pressure may have also been pivotal in this case.

“There’s an interesting situation ongoing which is related to the sanctions on Sudan from the United States.  There’s consideration about whether those sanctions should be lifted permanently or whether some of them should be put back in place.  Now, the reality is that in Sudan, the sanctions work.  They are looking to develop better relations with the rest of the international community.”

The situation is cause for celebration, but it’s also a time to look at what caused it to begin with.  Windsor notes, “The reality is, this is just one situation among many that Christians are facing in Sudan.”

For example, he cites this case: “There’s a demolition order against 27 churches, and to my knowledge, that is still an issue and it’s still ongoing.  We can continue to pray for that situation, that God would be intervening in that, and also we can be raising awareness of some of these other situations believers are facing.”

Then, on April 26th, police and an armed mob occupied part of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) compound in Omdurman which includes houses, offices, and school premises.  Ongoing attempts to seize church property in Omdurman led to the fatal stabbing of a church elder on April 3rd.

(Map courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs)

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has designated Sudan a Country of Particular Concern since 1999.  Humanitarian and Religious Rights watchdog groups believe the Sudanese government is trying to eliminate all Christian villages, churches, hospitals, and schools in an effort to Islamize the country.

In response, Windsor says, “We want to see a situation in Sudan where people are allowed to worship God freely and at present, in spite of the good news that we’ve had just now, that’s not currently the case.”

Aside from the advocacy he suggests, he also urges prayer.  “Making sure that these human rights issues are dealt with before sanctions are lifted is very important, so prayer around that.  If we can be encouraging our representatives to consider these things as well, I think that would be very important.”

Pray that Christians throughout Sudan will continue to entrust themselves to Christ and preach the Gospel boldly.  Pray also that peace, justice, and religious freedom may be firmly established.