KHARTOUM, Sudan, January 18 (CDN) — Sudan’s Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments has threatened to arrest church leaders if they carry out evangelistic activities and do not comply with an order for churches to provide their names and contact information, Christian sources said.
The warning in a Jan. 3 letter to church leaders of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) arrived a few days after Sudan President Omar al-Bashir told cheering crowds on Jan. 3 that, following the secession of largely non-Islamic south Sudan last July, the country’s constitution will be more deeply entrenched in sharia (Islamic law).
“We will take legal procedures against pastors who are involved in preaching or evangelistic activities,” Hamid Yousif Adam, undersecretary of the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowment, wrote to the church leaders. “We have all legal rights to take them to court.”
Sources said the order was aimed at oppressing Christians amid growing hostilities toward Christianity.
“This is a critical situation faced by our church in Sudan,” said the Rev. Yousif Matar, secretary general of the SPEC.
Another church leader said the order was another in a series of measures by the government to control churches.
“They do not want pastors from South Sudan to carry on any church activities or mission work in Sudan,” he said.
Sudanese law prohibits missionaries from evangelizing, and converting from Islam to another religion is punishable by imprisonment or death in Sudan, though previously such laws were not strictly enforced. The government has never carried out a death sentence for apostasy, according to the U.S. State Department’s latest International Religious Freedom Report.
Christians are facing growing threats from both Muslim communities and Islamist government officials who have long wanted to rid Sudan of Christianity, Christian leaders told Compass. They said Christianity is now regarded as a foreign religion following the departure of 350,000 people, most of them Christians, to South Sudan following the July 9, 2011 secession.
Sudan’s Interim National Constitution (INC) holds up sharia as a source of legislation, and the laws and policies of the government favor Islam, according to the state department report. Christian leaders said they fear the government is tightening controls on churches in Sudan and planning to force compliance with Islamic law as part of a strategy to eliminate Christianity.