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Sudanese Pastors Acquitted, Escape Possible Death Penalty

Pastors Yat Michael and Peter Yen faced flogging and a possible death penalty on multiple charges, including undermining the Constitution, waging war against the State, and espionage

08/05/2015 Washington D.C., (International Christian Concern) –International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Sudanese Pastors Yat Michael and Peter Yen were acquitted by a court in Khartoum today after serving more than seven months in prison on multiple charges, including espionage and waging war against the State. If convicted, the pastors faced possible flogging, life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Pastors Michael and Peter were initially detained by Sudan’s notorious National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) without charge in late 2014 and early 2015 for several months. Their case gradually garnered widespread international attention and prompted calls for their release by international advocacy organizations, including Amnesty International and ICC. According to sources present at the sentencing hearing in Khartoum today, presiding judge Ahmed Ghaboush convicted Pastors Michael and Peter of “organizing terrorist organizations” and “breaching the peace,” but said, “the sentence they served in prison is enough, release them immediately.”

A source close to the pastors who spoke with them following the hearing said, “Both pastors are incredibly grateful for all of the hard work and prayers. They could feel the prayers and knew that God was with them.”

In the most recent report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Sudan was designated a “country of particular concern” for engaging in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom or belief.” The report goes on to say that the government of Sudan, led by Omar Hassan al-Bashir, “prosecutes persons accused of apostasy, imposes a restrictive interpretation of Shari’ah (Islamic law) and applies corresponding punishments on Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and harasses the country’s Christian community.”

In a July 15 interview with the pastors’ defense attorney, Mohaned Mustafa, he said that the arrest of Pastors Michael and Peter was motivated by their pastoral work. “They are missionaries. This is not a crime in Sudan, but this is not acceptable to the government,” Mustafa told ICC. Last year, Sudan also received widespread international condemnation after convicting pregnant Christian mother Meriam Ibrahim of apostasy and sentencing her to death. Meriam was later freed and fled with her family to the United States.

Isaac Six, ICC’s Advocacy Director, said, “We could not be happier to hear this morning of the release of Pastors Michael and Peter. Their acquittal demonstrates just how critical international attention and support is in undoing the injustices perpetrated by the al-Bashir regime against its own people. The international community must take this opportunity and resolve to stand against the Sudanese regime until serious, long running changes to its treatment of religious minorities are made. Meriam Ibrahim, Michael, and Peter are the faces of only a few of the Christians in Sudan who face terror and prosecution on a daily basis because of their beliefs. Addressing the fundamental issues that undergird this religious persecution is key less we find ourselves here again next year, once more staving off at the last minute another flogging or death penalty.

For interviews, please contact Isaac Six at advocacy@persecution.org

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