South Sudanese Pastors Facing Death Penalty for Christian Faith Scheduled to Appear in Court

6/15/2015 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Court proceedings were scheduled to resume today in Khartoum, Sudan in the trial of two South Sudanese Christian pastors who could face the death penalty for their faith in Christ.

*Pastors Peter and Michael stand charged with undermining the constitutional code, waging war against the state, spying, and other charges, and last appeared in court on May 31.  At that time, the judge granted a continuance so that the prosecution could build their case because they had reportedly produced scant evidence against the pastors.

The pastors have remained in prison since their arrests in December 2014 and January 2015. On June 4, security officials transferred them from low-security Omdurman Men’s Prison to Kober Prison, a high-security prison in North Khartoum where the men wait in solitary confinement, unable to receive visits from family and friends.

In the face of possible death sentences, Pastors Peter and Michael remain hopeful with their faith grounded in Christ. “I am never afraid of anything because it is my love… because I believe. God chose me to suffer,” Pastor Peter explained.

Concerns over the treatment of the pastors have only increased since their transfer to Kober Prison.  “They already endured extended detention without access to their families at the beginning of this year and they and their families should be spared further emotional distress,” noted Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Sadly, harsh treatment toward Christians is nothing new in Sudan, especially towards pastors.  “Almost all pastors [have] gone to jail under the government of Sudan. We have been stoned and beaten. This is their habit to pull down the church. We are not surprised. This is the way they deal with the church,” said Rev. Tut Kony from the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church where Pastors Peter and Michael serve.

Additionally, the Sudanese government has broken international law with respect to legal trial procedures. “The refusal of access to [the pastors’] legal representatives is in violation of article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sudan is party, and which guarantees the right to right of those charged with a crime to communicate with counsel of their own choosing,” Thomas said.

The story of Pastor Peter and Pastor Michael highlights the continued opposition that the Sudanese government regularly shows towards Christians.

 “The trial of Revs. Michael and [Peter] is a clear example of the Sudanese government’s persecution of the country’s small Christian community.  They are on trial simply for demanding and urging their congregation to remain strong in the face of restrictions on their constitutional right to religious freedom,” said USCIRF Chair Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett.

The injustice surrounding the case has prompted international outcry.  Both Christian and secular media outlets have publicized the case. International Christian Concern has partnered with other like-minded organizations to co-sign a letter to Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir requesting the release of Pastors Peter and Michael and calling for an end to the persecution of Christians in the country.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity related to the war in Darfur, Sudan in 2003.  This past weekend, he traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa for an African Union summit where he reportedly managed to fly back to Sudan after the meeting, despite a South African court order barring him from leaving the country along with international calls for his arrest.

The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has designated Sudan a “Country of Particular Concern” in its 2015 Annual report. This means that, “severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated,” in Sudan.

ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, Troy Augustine, said, “We must continue to apply pressure to the Sudanese government for the immediate release of Pastor Peter and Pastor Michael. Since their last court appearance, their treatment has worsened as they are no longer allowed to see their families. The international community must not stand quietly by while Sudan commits another injustice against Christians. ICC urges all concerned readers to make your voice heard by calling the Sudanese Embassy at +12023388565 to demand that the pastors be set free.”

*The names “Pastor Peter” and “Pastor Michael” are simplified versions of their full names Peter Yein Reith and Yat Michael Ruot, which carry a variety of spellings. The names used in the article were chosen for clarity and consistency.

For interviews Please Contact Troy Augustine, Regional Manager for Africa: rm-africa@persecution.org

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