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Sudan acquits pastor in trial of Christians charged with capital crimes

Rev. Hassan Abduraheem and Rev. Kuwa Shamal
Rev. Hassan Abduraheem and Rev. Kuwa Shamal
A court in Khartoum, Sudan, on Monday released a pastor from prison after acquitting him of charges punishable by the death penalty, sources said.

Rev Kwa (also transliterated Kuwa) Shamaal, head of missions of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC), was acquitted of charges ranging from spying to inciting hatred against the government. He had been arrested without charges from his home on 18th December, 2015.

"Yes, he was released today after the court found that he was not guilty of the charges brought against him," said attorney Muhanad Nur, part of the team of lawyers defending Shamaal and 3 other Christians.

The court also charged Kwa's colleague, Rev Hassan Abduraheem Taour, and 2 other Christians, Czech aid worker Petr Jasek and Abdulmonem Abdumawla of Darfu, with crimes against the state that carry death penalty.

The charges include espionage, waging war against the state and gathering false news information, as well as inciting hatred between classes. Abdelrahim Tawor was also arrested from his home on 18th December, 2015.

After the 2 pastors' arrest a year ago, Rev Shamal was released on 21st December, 2015, but was required to report daily to the offices of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), a requirement that was removed on 16th January last year. He was re-arrested on 25th May.

Rev Shamaal and Rev Taour were charged with trying to tarnish the image of Sudan's government by collecting information on persecution of Christians and genocide in the Nuba Mountains. The charges included collecting information for "other parties hostile to Sudan". They were accused of conducting intelligence activities and providing material support for Nuba rebels in South Kordofan under 2 charges that carry the death penalty - waging war against the state (Article 51 of the Sudanese Criminal Code) and spying (Article 53).

Similarly charged are Czech aid worker Jasek and Abdumawla, who initially said he was Muslim but later admitted he was Christian. He was arrested in December, 2015, after he began collecting money to help a friend, Ali Omer, who had needed treatment for burns suffered in a student demonstration. Abdumawla contacted Abdelrahim Tawor, who donated money for Omer's treatment, which apparently raised the ire of Sudanese authorities, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Prosecutors have charged Mr Jasek, also arrested in December, 2015, with "tarnishing Sudan's image" by documenting persecution. He is also charged with waging war against the state, reportedly based on an accusation that he gave money to "some individuals" in South Kordofan in 2012, allegedly including some rebel fighters.

At one hearing, NISS official Abbas el Tahir accused the defendants of conducting "hostile activities against the state that threaten the national and social security" in Sudan, according to Netherlands-based Radio Dabanga.

"Since 2012, we banned organizations or individuals working against Sudan," El Tahir reportedly said. "However, these NGOs still work and plan to threaten the national security and harm the society's interest."

He accused aid organisations of publishing false reports against Sudan.

Attorney Nur said he is hopeful that the other defendants also will be released soon. The next court hearing is scheduled for 9th January.

Foreign diplomats and international rights activists have taken notice of the case since Morning Star News broke the story of the arrest of 2 pastors in December, 2015. Their arrest is seen as part of a recent upsurge in harassment of Christians.

Most SCOC members have roots among the ethnic Nuba in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan's South Kordofan state, where the government is fighting an insurgency. The Nuba along with other Christians in Sudan face discrimination, as President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to introduce a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and Arabic language.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir in connection with war crimes in Darfur. Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2016 report.

Sudan ranked 8th on Christian support organisation Open Doors 2016 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most persecution.

Source: sightmagazine.com.au, January 3, 2017

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