Photo: A chalk drawing of a cross on the outside of a church that was burned down and rebuilt in Yida Refugee Camp. Photo taken May 27, 2016.
On August 1, 2016, state authorities issued a warning notice to a local church's leaders letting them know that the church would be destroyed within one week. The church being targeted this time is the Christ Church in El Haj Yousif in Khartoum North.
The letter from authorities in Khartoum state warns that the church will be demolished and the congregation must evacuate, otherwise legal action will be taken so that the church pays for the demolishing cost.
Oppression Of Christians In Sudan Isn't New
Since the National Islamic Front (NIF) seized power through a military coup in 1989, Sudan has witnessed a stunning clampdown on religious freedoms. 2005-2011 marked a slightly better period for religious freedoms due to the Interim Constitution as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which gave the right to all Sudanese to worship as they saw fit without intimidation. This was widely respected in southern Sudan and poorly implemented in the north.
But with the independence of South Sudan in 2011, a renewed assault by the Sudanese government on religious freedoms began almost immediately. As the Bashir regime renewed its genocidal wars in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, it also began ramping up the destruction of churches in these two areas, as well as in capital city of Khartoum and nearby Omdurman. It appears that the Sudanese government perceives churches as dangerous spaces where displaced people from the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile—where Christianity is widely followed—can easily come together and find assistance.
Sudanese President and internationally-indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir made it clear in December of 2010 that this was the direction his deeply unpopular government would be going when he said:
"If South Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity...Sharia (Islamic law) and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion, and Arabic the official language."
Since making these inflammatory claims, the Bashir regime has moved forwards with its promises. And Sudanese Christians increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs.
Photo: Charred logs from one of the Yida church burnings sites sit in front of the newly rebuilt church. Photo taken on May 27, 2016.
A Growling List Of Crimes Against Christians
On March 14, 2016, the Sudan Democracy First Group published a list of known attacks against churches in Sudan and highlighted several ways that the Bashir regime is systematically persecuting and silencing Christians. Here's a few notable excerpts:
"In June 2011, an extremist group burned a building belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sudan in Omdurman, and no investigation took place into the incident. At the beginning of 2012, a group of local citizens again burned a Christian compound of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in el Gerif West area in Khartoum. A Salafist Sheikh was accused of publically mobilizing his followers to carry out this act, but the police did not investigate and the authorities did not bring any official charges against the alleged perpetrators. In the same year, local authorities in Khartoum State demolished the premises of the Episcopal Church of Haj Yusif on the pretext that it had been built without planning permission from authorities, despite the Church being established there since the 1970s.
In 2014, the attacks on churches continued. In July of that year, the authorities demolished one of the churches of the Church of Jesus Christ of Sudan in Tayba Alahamda area in northern Khartoum. In December 2014, the authorities stripped the Evangelical Church in Khartoum North of a large portion of its land and destroyed some of its buildings on the pretext of allocating the land to investment. This effectively stopped the activities of the church. The authorities also closed down the Pentecostal Church, located in Said Abdelrahman Street in central Khartoum without giving any reasons. In October 2015, local authorities demolished the buildings of the Lutheran Evangelical Church in West Omdurman once again under the cover of “lack of planning permission” despite the Church having been there since 1990s."
...In addition to the individual targeting of Christian religious leaders, there has been broader state practice which has further undermined the religious rights of Sudanese Christians. Since 2011, for example, the government has stopped the celebration of Christmas as an official holiday, alongside other non-Muslim religious occasions, including refusing to broadcast these celebrations through the state-own media outlets."
There are also claims that the Bashir regime was behind attacks on three churches in a major Sudanese refugee camp. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE YIDA CHURCH BURNINGS »
While this systematic targeting of churches and Christians is bad enough, the writers of the report correctly note that it also ensures that Sudan will remain a state sponsor of terrorism. The Bashir regime is already one of the largest supporters of Islamic terrorist networks in the world. LEARN MORE ABOUT SUDAN'S TERRORIST CONNECTIONS »
What Can Be Expected In The Coming Years?
As many other areas of Sudanese society are oppressed by this extremist government, civil society organizations and political parties in Sudan have struggled to speak out against the oppression and persecution of Sudanese citizens who Christians. The international community, including the broader Christian Church, has played a diminished role since 2011 in trying to sustainably improve the situation in Sudan.
Unless there is an enormous ramping up of consistent pressure on the Bashir regime by the international community, or the overthrow of this weakening dictatorship, it is likely that Sudanese Christians will continue facing increased oppression and persecution in the coming years with little hope for relief. We can expect to see more churches destroyed, more Christian leaders arrested and falsely charged, and the Bashir regime continuing its relentless but failing push to Islamicize and Arabize Sudan.
In response to these expected crimes, we can also expect to see ongoing armed rebellion in the periphery regions of the country as well as more protests in major cities against this regime's horrible social, military, and economic policies.
The people of Sudan are overcoming two of the greatest challenges facing humanity today: war and genocide. Operation Broken Silence is working to accelerate their ability to generate lasting change through storytelling, education, advocacy, and emergency relief programs. Here’s 3 ways you can help:
1. Support The Yida Photography Exhibit. In May of 2016, Operation Broken Silence commissioned talented photographer Katie Barber to document life in Yida Refugee Camp as part of our organization’s efforts to use media for social change in Sudan. Katie captured over 4,000 photos and several hundred of them have been pre-selected for a traveling photography exhibit our organization is raising funds to build. The exhibit will include a section on churches in Yida. LEARN MORE »
2. Become A Civilian Protector. You can pitch in a couple of bucks each month by joining Civlian Protector, our monthly giving program for our education program for Nuba war orphans and refugees in Yida Refugee Camp. We also give you some cool perks for joining. LEARN MORE »
3. Start Fundraising. In less than a minute you can start your personal fundraising page and start raising $200 for education in Yida Refugee Camp. BECOME A FUNDRAISER »