NORTH KHARTOUM, Sudan (Morning Star News) – As churchwomen wailed and young men shouted that they were prepared to die to prevent further demolition, hundreds of Christians in North Khartoum blocked authorities’ attempts to destroy buildings on their compound this week.
After a bulldozer accompanied by security personnel and police knocked down a wall of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church’s (SPEC) Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church and some houses on Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 17-18), the Christians formed a human barrier to face down further demolition attempts on Wednesday and Thursday (Nov. 19-20), sources said.
One of the homes destroyed in the compound belonged to Nile Theological College; a Christian doctor had rented it, and he lost all his belongings, sources said.
The bulldozer, accompanied by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) personnel and police, carried out the demolitions based on a court order demanding that church leaders surrender the premises to Muslim businessman Khalid Mustafa. A church committee of members that the Sudanese government interposed made a secret agreement with Mustafa to sell him church property as part of Sudan’s campaign to do away with Christianity in the country, church leaders said.
“The government recently installed some committee to the running of the church, and these are the same people who want to sell the church for business purposes,” pastor Daud Fadul told Morning Star News.
Church members strongly condemned the “government puppet committee” supporting the government agenda to do away with Christianity.
“This is a case of serious persecution of the church in Sudan,” elder Daud Bashir Gadalah told Morning Star News. “We appeal to the international community of the Christian body to stand with us and to advocate for our case. The forces of evil cannot prevail against the church of Christ.”
After Monday’s demolitions, church leaders on Tuesday (Nov. 18) filed a court complaint. They were told they would have to wait until Dec. 4 to have their grievances heard.
The next day authorities destroyed the home of pastor Hafiz Fasaha at the SPEC church compound after ordering personnel inside to leave the premises, church leaders said. Authorities told the Christians a Muslim businessman owned the land and that they had a court order calling for the use of force to take over the property.
The Christians stood helpless as they watched the building destroyed before their eyes.
“We are surprised that our government is determined to take all lands that belong to the church,” said a church member who requested anonymity.
Two other structures housing church youth were destroyed while the young people and the pastor were away, sources said. Pastor Fasaha has not been seen since the demolition, they said.
Church leaders were upset over thousands of dollars in damages to window panes, steel doors, refrigerators, students’ certificates, books, mobiles phones, wardrobes and other valuables.
On Wednesday (Nov. 19) at 2 p.m., police arrived at the church compound with another court order from Judge Mohammed Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed, this one requiring the removal of all property inside the main pastor’s house and the removal of all padlocks to allow the businessman to install his own padlock. After a lengthy discussion between police and church leaders, boisterous young men from the church arrived ready to defend the building.
“We are ready to die for the cause of Christ – the church is a place for worship, not for business,” the rowdy men chanted to police, echoing a message on banners placed throughout the compound.
In addition, church women were wailing and screaming, and police decided to leave, saying they would return later. Church leaders called on members to remain vigilant, and when authorities returned with a bulldozer at 2 a.m. on Thursday (Nov. 20), they encountered hundreds of church members.
“Kill us before destroying our church property,” the Christians told police, according to church leaders. “We are ready to die or to be arrested.”
They made a human shield that prevented the demolition, they said.
Throughout the day, members gathered along with members of other denominations for prayer and fasting.
“We cannot allow our church building to be taken by force,” another church leader told Morning Star News.
While the church blames the government for the court order that it surrender the property, a representative of the Muslim businessman laying claim to it has said a contract was signed about four years ago giving him the right to invest in the land for a period of up to 20 years. The representative asserts that because of church opposition he had to go to the government to take the land by force.
Church leaders hold ownership papers to the property and believe any contract surrendering it comes from a government ruse. On Oct. 5, 2013, Sudan’s police and security forces broke throughthe church fence, beat and arrested Christians in the compound and asserted parts of the property belonged to a Muslim investor accompanying them.
As Muslims nearby shouted, “Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” plainclothes police and personnel from NISS broke onto the property aboard a truck and two Land Cruisers. After beating several Christians who were in the compound, they arrested some of them, including Pastor Fadul; they were all released later that day.
Authorities asserted that another Muslim businessman, Hisham Hamada El-Neel, had signed a contract giving him a right to invest in land. Church members were not told who gave him the contract, and they suspected the government was behind the move.
This week the church has declared a time of prayer and fasting for the property, and tensions were high as members remained on the compound to protect against further demolition.
“The demolition will make the church have no place to worship,” said another church leader.
At press time a heavy police contingent surrounded the church building. There was a possibility of the business interests using authorities to storm the compound at any time, a church leader said.
Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan, when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
On June 30 authorities in North Khartoum demolished another church building, just a day after giving verbal notice during the congregation’s worship service, sources said. Bulldozers demolished the Sudanese Church of Christ in the Thiba Al Hamyida area of the city as church members watched, with security personnel threatening to arrest them if they tried to block their efforts, church members said.
On Aug. 24 another Christian property, the Khartoum Christian Center housing the Sudan Pentecostal Church, was closed down. Church leadership said an Islamic Facebook page indicated the church should be closed because it was winning many Muslims to Christ.
On Feb. 17, bulldozers accompanied by local police and personnel from the NISS destroyed the Sudanese Church of Christ building in the Ombada area of Omdurman, across the River Nile from Khartoum, without any advance notice.
Officials gave no reason for the demolition except that, as it was located in a “Muslim area,” the 300-member church was not wanted there, a church member said. Another source, a church leader, confirmed to Morning Star News that authorities destroyed the building and confiscated the land without warning. The orders came from the Ombada locality, or city council, sources said.
Following the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese. Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who do not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians (see Morning Star News).
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 in April 2013, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended the country remain on the list.
Many foreign Christians have been expelled from the country, and others have fled.