Two church leaders from the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) in Gezira State were arrested and interrogated by police on 27 February, a week after local extremists ordered that the building used by the church was to be closed.
The building, in the Al Haj Abdalla locality of Gezira State, belonged to the Catholic Church, but has been used as a place of worship and activities by several Christian denominations.
In 2011, after the secession of South Sudan, the local people’s committee confiscated the building, preventing the Christian community in the area from using it. However, in 2019, after the ouster of the National Congress Party (NCP) and former President al Bashir, the building was vacated, and church leaders asked permission from the Catholic Church to use it again. Since then, the building has been used by the church for religious purposes, but has also been open to the local Muslim community who have used it for social purposes, including a nursery.
Despite being open to the Muslim community, the church has experienced harassment from local Wahhabi extremists since 2019. Incidents include the positioning of sound systems outside the building to criticise the church and the filing of complaints against church leaders, accusing them of disturbing the peace and disturbing people of other faiths in the area. The church has been accused of giving food to children to entice them to Christianity, amid claims that the building does not belong to Christians.
On 21 February church members found an order posted on the building banning all activities including praying, and warning that anyone breaching the order or entering the building would face legal action. The order was signed by the Neighbourhood Youth Association, but local sources inform CSW that it was issued by extremists and not the neighbourhood committee, whose members have been living in peace with Christians and do not agree with the extremists.
On 27 February, church members found the building had been padlocked, but they entered and began a short prayer service. Police reportedly disrupted the service but allowed them to conclude their prayers, and then arrested the two church leaders. The men were taken to the police station and interrogated for several hours before being released without charge. After their release the church leaders met with the Area Director, a local government executive who is familiar with the history of the building, and urged him to intervene; however, the official said he is powerless to act in this situation.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW is very concerned by the attempts to prevent local Christians from accessing a place of worship, which is a resource for both religious communities. We call on the authorities to address the situation before it escalates further. We also note with concern the detention and interrogation of the church leaders by the police. Intentionally or not, the actions of the police appear to substantiate the claims of extremists that legal action can be taken against those who do not comply with their orders. There are unmistakeable parallels between this case and the kind of harassment experienced by religious leaders in the latter years of the al Bashir regime, and we call on the international community to recognise this. and to be proactive in raising these concerns with the de facto military leaders, urging them once again to swiftly return power to a civilian-led administration.”