JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – The head of discipleship at a North Khartoum, Sudan church has been arrested, sources said.
Agents of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) went to the home of Telahoon Nogose Kassa, 36, one night the second weekend of December and told him to report to their offices, the sources said. When he went to a NISS office the following day, they said, officials arrested him and took him to a detention center in Khartoum.
NISS officials gave no reasons for the arrest, though they questioned him for five consecutive days about his relationship with a foreign missionary who had attended a discipleship class, sources said. They believe he was targeted for his Christian activities and his opposition to government interference with his church, Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church.
The church has fought a government takeover of its property. Kassa’s arrest comes four months after two South Sudanese pastors, Peter Yein Reith and Yat Michael, were released following eight months in prison on false charges of capital crimes due to their efforts to defend the church against the illegal sale of its property.
Michael, 49, was arrested in December 2014 after encouraging Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church; the church was the subject of government harassment, arrests and demolition of part of its worship center as Muslim investors have tried to take it over. Reith, 36, was arrested on Jan. 11 after submitting a letter from SSPEC leaders inquiring about the whereabouts of Michael.
Kassa, whose church is part of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, has since been transferred to Kobar Prison in Khartoum Bahri (North Khartoum), according to local sources who confirmed the arrest.
Since Kassa’s arrest more than two weeks ago, only his parents have been allowed to visit him, and only once, in Kobar Prison. Authorities have prohibited church members from visiting him, sources said. There were no charges brought against him at the time of his arrest, they said.
In further evidence of a crackdown against Christians in Sudan, security officials on Dec. 18 arrested two Sudanese pastors in the Khartoum area, Kowa Shamaal and Hassan Abdelrahim. NISS authorities arrested both leaders of the Sudan Church of Christ (SCOC) separately at their respective homes at 7 a.m., sources said.
Shamaal, head of missions at the SCOC, was arrested at his house in Hai Thiba Al Hamyida, in North Khartoum, while Abdelrahim, SCOC vice moderator, was arrested at his home in Omdurman. Family members and church officials have been given no reason for the arrest of the pastors, who have objected to government demolition of SCOC worship buildings. Their whereabouts were also unknown.
Both church leaders are from the Nuba Mountain region of South Kordofan state. Ethnic Nuba, along with Christians, face discrimination in Sudan, where President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
Shamaal’s church building was demolished in the Hai Thiba Al Hamyida area of Khartoum North on June 29-30, 2014. This year, after bulldozing a Lutheran Church of Sudan (LCS) building on Oct. 21, authorities in the Karari area of Omdurman demolished an SCOC building on Oct. 27 without prior warning, church leaders said. Local authorities said the SCOC building was on government land, a claim church leaders adamantly denied. The SCOC church was established in 1998.
A source in Khartoum told Morning Star News that Shamaal and Abdelrahim are in detention at an undisclosed NISS site in Khartoum state.
Christians in Sudan and elsewhere are praying for God’s protection and release of Shamaal, Abdelrahim and Kassa. One Christian said in regard to Kassa, “May God protect you, my brother, through the Holy Spirit even in prison.”
Repeated arrests of church leaders and Christian workers have forced many Sudanese Christians to fear possible arrest by NISS agents for speaking against ill treatment of Christians and their churches.
“Due to nature of the arrests in Sudan, many Christians are already afraid to speak out,” a source said.
Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011. The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population.
Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese. Sudan fought a civil war with the South Sudanese from 1983 to 2005, and in June 2011, shortly before the secession of South Sudan the following month, the government began fighting a rebel group in the Nuba Mountains that has its roots in South Sudan.
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 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2015 report.
Sudan ranked sixth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2015 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face most persecution, moving up from 11th place the previous year.