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By Nathan Johnson

10/05/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In one week, the United States will decide whether or not to lift decades-old sanctions on Sudan’s repressive regime. Since first being identified as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1993, Sudan’s actions, led by President Omar al-Bashir, are nothing less than crimes against humanity, including genocide, persecution, and general oppression of the millions of people in Sudan.

In response to such behavior, the US sanctioned all trade with Sudan and froze the Sudanese government’s assets in the US in 1997. These sanctions were partially lifted in January 2017 per President Obama’s executive order with the intention of being fully removed, pending a six-month review of Sudan’s progress in five areas: ending war in Sudan, increasing humanitarian awareness, ceasing the destabilization of South Sudan, assisting in counterterrorism efforts, and ending the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army. In July 2017, President Trump extended the deadline for three months to comprehensively review the proposed changes.

Throughout 2017, Sudan has not progressed enough in the required areas and especially in the area of religious freedom. While al-Bashir established a ceasefire with the rebels (through the month of October), his government continues the human rights abuses characteristic of his repressive regime.

For example, according to many Western sources, Sudan is experiencing an outbreak of cholera, a disease caused by unsanitary drinking water. The government, however, fails to acknowledge the epidemic. The government calls the illness “Acute Watery Diarrhoea” [sic].  According to the Independent Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, Sudan has experienced 22,000 cases of cholera with 700 fatalities. Because Sudan fails to acknowledge the epidemic, they have failed to provide or allow other organizations to provide proper medical care. They have even arrested journalists who have reported on the issue.

Also, Sudan has demonstrated an inability to provide women with necessary prenatal care and basic healthcare due to the violence and rebellion in the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Human Rights Watch has reported extensively on this issue and notes that the government and rebel groups have denied entry to aid groups seeking to provide basic healthcare. The health crisis in Sudan will only increase as refugees continue to enter the country due to the civil war in South Sudan. It is estimated that more than 460,000 South Sudanese now live in Sudan.

Sudan also violates human rights through religious persecution against minorities like the small, marginalized Christian community. Throughout 2017, Sudanese Christians have experienced continuous persecution. In 2011, Sudan ceased issuing permits to build Christian churches. In 2016, Sudan issued a plan to demolish 27 Christian churches in the Khartoum area that the government considered in violation of zoning laws. Since the 2016 statement, the government has bulldozed at least four churches despite advocacy efforts on the churches’ behalf. Mosques, however, that reside in the same neighborhoods are exempt from such zoning violations.

The Sudanese government also actively harasses pastors and various Christian leaders. Pastors are arrested without charge, held for hours, and finally released at the end of the day. However, these pastors are often forced to report daily to the National Intelligence Security Services, severely limiting them in the completion of their daily duties. Because Islam recognizes a different work week calendar than the West (Friday and Saturday are days off of work), the Sudanese constitution mandates that workplaces allow employees to attend church services on Sunday mornings if they wish. This right is often abused by employers.

The following is a list of religious freedom violations since the proposed reprieve of sanctions in January of 2017:

  • September 22 – A pastor is detained and questioned for hours before being released on bail after refusing to turn over leadership of his church to the state.
  • September 6 – Aid to the Church in Need, a Christian organization, reports that Christian refugee children in Sudan are required to recite Islamic prayers before receiving daily food.
  • August 28 – Seven church leaders are arrested and jailed for six hours before being released on bail after refusing to turn over leadership of their churches to the state.
  • August 21 – Police evict two church leaders from their homes in an effort to assist a Muslim business owner in taking over church property.
  • August 2 – A Baptist church is demolished in Omdurman.
  • July 28 – Sudanese officials mandate that all Christian schools regard Sunday as a work-day, restricting their ability to worship; the order is later overturned.
  • May 17 – An SCOC church is demolished in Algadisia, Khartoum.
  • May 7 – State authorities demolish a church in the Khartoum suburb of Soba al Aradi.
  • April 24 – A mob and police raid the home of a Synod guard. Police arrest his wife and three children and detain them for several hours before releasing them without charge.
  • March 17 – Police detain three Christian school teachers for eight hours before releasing them on bail; charged with obstructing the work of those attempting to take over the school.
  • February 27 – Czech aid worker, Petr Jasek, released after 14 months in prison in Sudan.
  • February 20 – Reported that Sudanese officials plan to demolish 27 churches in the Khartoum area; all are said to be infringing upon residential zoning laws; there are several mosques in the same areas that were left untouched.

Sudan has consistently maintained oppressive, discriminatory policies that have placed Sudan further away from achieving the five US benchmarks that needed to be achieved before the lifting of the sanctions.  The attitude toward the destitute from Khartoum has been indifferent at best, and monomaniacal at worst. Until Sudan demonstrates more desirable progress, the US should not lift these sanctions.