Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
Select Page

Sudanese Police Deny New Year’s Church Attack

Sudanese Police Deny New Year’s Church Attack

Compass Direct

January 10 2007

Sudanese police have denied attacking 800 Christians at a New Year’s Eve service at Khartoum ’s Anglican cathedral and injuring six members of the congregation, the church priest said.

Canon Sylvester Thomas of All Saints Cathedral told Compass that officers firing tear gas into the church claimed they were trying to apprehend a man involved in a stabbing.

Church staff registered a case with local police on January 2, but officials have not established who carried out the attack that caused US$7,000 damage, Thomas said.

“The police were trying to claim, ‘This group doesn’t belong to us and we don’t know where they came from,’” Thomas said. “But they were all in uniform and using guns and [police] cars.”

A police spokesman in Khartoum contacted by Compass refused to comment on the attack.

Sudanese Vice President Salva Kiir, a southern Christian, publicly called for the church attackers to be punished yesterday in Juba .

Kiir’s comments came in a nationally televised speech when he and northern President Omar Al-Bashir met to commemorate the second anniversary of a peace deal that ended the nation’s 21-year civil war between northern Islamists and southern Christian, Muslim and animist factions.

During the ceremony, broadcast live on Sudan TV, Kiir and Bashir criticized each other openly for blocking implementation of the peace agreement and the sharing of oil revenues.

Beaten with Whips

No government official from the north, where the Islamist regime holds power, has openly commented on the church attack.

The governor of Khartoum has yet to respond to a protest letter from the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) Bishop of Khartoum, the Rt. Rev. Ezekiel Kondo, who was among those attacked on January 1.

In the letter, Bishop Kondo noted that members of the Cathedral had felt threatened by police cars parked outside the cathedral all day prior to the attack. “Most of the officers were of high rank,” the letter said.

Police first fired 10 canisters of tear gas into and around the cathedral 20 minutes after the midnight service had begun, Thomas told Compass. The congregation panicked and began to stampede out the front door of the church, only to be met by officers who beat them with whips and sticks.

In the ensuing confusion, a 19-year-old man was badly injured in the leg and stomach when the chair he was sitting on went up in flames, Thomas said. The sound system, pews, chairs and windows were damaged.

Among those present were United Nations workers and government officials, including Vice President Kiir’s secretary as well as former Vice President Abel Alier.

“The second assault of tear gas fell just in front of [Alier] and he was almost suffocated,” Thomas said. “His wife had to carry him near the tap and pour water on him, and that is how he survived.”

Thomas helped members of the congregation escape through his office into his home. When police continued to fire on his house, the priest, still in his robes, ran through the smoke towards them to halt their assault.

An officer told Thomas that they had not been firing on the church but had been trying to apprehend a group of men fighting in the street, one of whom had been stabbed. The police claimed they opened fire on the group after the men began throwing rocks to resist arrest.

Church staff investigated police claims that a man named Stephen Chol, from Hag-Yousif in Khartoum North, had been stabbed. But the telephone number provided by police turned out to belong to someone else, and no hospital in the area had any record of a patient treated for stabbing, Thomas said.

Minority Rights

Signed in January 2005 to end Sudan ’s civil war, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) provides guarantees for non-Muslim minorities living under Islamic law in northern Sudan .

A CPA commission for the rights of non-Muslims was to be established for significant numbers of Christians and other religious groups living in Khartoum .

Two years on, little concrete progress has been made in establishing the commission. Christians living in the capital city of Khartoum continue to report discrimination and harassment.

In May 2006, the Rev. Elia Komondan of All Saints Cathedral was jailed for a week over the disappearance of a Muslim convert to Christianity (See Compass Direct News, “Sudan Releases Priest Suspected of Kidnapping ‘Apostate,’” May 23, 2006). The incident highlighted restrictions placed on Christian evangelization of Muslims and the lack of freedom Muslim-born citizens have in choosing their own religion.