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POLICE ARREST PRIEST FOR ‘KIDNAPPING’ MISSING WOMAN

Muslim says her father beat her for her interest in Christianity.

May 17 (Compass Direct) – Missing for two months, a Muslim woman who reportedly wished to convert to Christianity surfaced yesterday in the Sudanese capital after her disappearance caused the arrest of an Episcopal priest, Christian clergymen said.

Shirakh Abdallah, 23, turned herself over to police after Arabic daily Al-Ashafa reported that the Rev. Elia Komondan had been arrested May 14 for kidnapping Abdallah.

Abdallah went missing in March after visiting Komondan’s Episcopal church in Khartoum to request shelter. She had shown church staff at All Saints’ Cathedral her scars, saying that her father was beating her because she had been spending time with Christians.

With no place for the woman to stay, Rev. Komondan was forced to turn Abdallah away, Canon Sylvester Thomas of All Saints’ Cathedral told Compass.

One source said that Abdallah, a university student studying agriculture, had also gone to the Catholic, Evangelical and Orthodox churches seeking refuge. The source, who requested anonymity, said that Abdallah had been regularly attending Christian religious meetings.

Without providing her name, Reuters reported on May 15 that Abdallah wanted to convert to Christianity.

Though religious freedom is theoretically enshrined in Sudan ’s new constitution, conversion from Islam to another religion is against the law in northern Sudan .

Abdallah turned herself in to the Office of Religious Coexistence yesterday and was then transferred into police custody, where she is being interrogated.

Canon Thomas said that he hoped Rev. Komondan would be released now that Abdallah had been found.

“But we don’t know what is going to happen,” Canon Thomas commented from Khartoum South, where he was trying to visit the detained priest. “It is too early to say whether his arrest is religiously motivated.”

“The charges against Komondan are baseless,” Khartoum-based lawyer Kulang Jurubom Macuour commented. “There is no strong evidence.”

Komondan’s wife said that the priest had been kept in a tiny cell and moved to new detention centers three times since his arrest Sunday at the police security station in Khartoum South.

“Bare-footed, he was thrown into prison like a thief or criminal!” Tabitha Eliaba told Compass.

Eliaba and her 2-year-old son, Emmanuel, have tried to visit Rev. Komondan daily but were last allowed to see the priest on Monday.

Five Others Arrested

Five other kidnapping suspects, including two Palestinian Muslims, a lay Catholic evangelist and a relative of Abdallah, were also taken into custody, Canon Thomas said.

Father Martin Saturlino Adele, archdiocesan secretary for the Catholic Church in Khartoum , was unable to confirm that any Catholics had been arrested in connection with Abdallah’s disappearance.

Rev. Komondan was taken into custody on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. after responding to a call from police asking that he come to the station to claim a lost mobile telephone.

The priest, who directs evangelism efforts at All Saints’ Cathedral, was told upon arrival that Abdallah’s father had registered a kidnapping complaint, Canon Thomas said. Police told Rev. Komondan they suspected his involvement because Abdallah’s mobile telephone records indicated that she had contacted him shortly before disappearing.

“She called back to Komondan on the telephone asking whether there was any possibility to accommodate her, and Komondan responded that so far they had not found anybody that she could stay with,” Canon Thomas said.

Drawn up last year in the wake of a peace agreement that ended the country’s 21-year civil war, Sudan ’s new constitution guarantees freedom of conscience.

But the document also stipulates that predominantly Muslim northern Sudan be governed by sharia (Islamic law), which proscribes apostasy.

Though the government rarely convicted converts from Islam, it often subjected them to “intense scrutiny, ostracism, and intimidation and encouraged them to leave the country,” the U.S. State Department reported in its 2005 annual religious freedom report.

The high profile apostasy case of former Muslim sheikh Al-Faki Kuku Hassan in 1998 caused international embarrassment for Sudan when the convert to Christianity suffered a stroke after being tortured in prison.

Since then Sudanese authorities have been reluctant to charge converts with apostasy, but instead accused them of “subversive” or other criminal activity.

The law in northern Sudan also forbids Christians from proselytizing Muslims.

“We are allowed to preach to our own people, but not to talk to Muslims or Christian Muslims [converts from Islam],” Canon Thomas commented.

One clergyman who requested anonymity commented that Abdallah “may want very much to join Christianity, but no one is in a position to baptize her because of the danger to her life.”