JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – Sudan released Czech aid worker Petr Jasek on Saturday (Feb. 25), nearly one month after a court in Khartoum sentenced him to life in prison for espionage and other charges, according to reports.
Jasek returned to the Czech Republic on Sunday with Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralekj, who had arrived earlier to secure his release. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir reportedly ordered the court to release the aid worker based on Sudan’s Article 208, which gives the president powers to release anyone convicted of crimes that do not carry death penalty.
Christian leaders in Sudan confirmed the release of the Czech aid worker.
“Yes, he was released on Saturday,” a Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) leader said.
The Czech Foreign Ministry had reportedly stated that the Jan. 29 conviction and sentencing of Jasek was without basis, and that he was in Sudan only to help Christians.
“In early February the Czech and Sudanese governments agreed that the Czech foreign minister would visit Sudan on 26th February, and that Petr would then be released into his care and return to the Czech Republic with him,” according to Middle East Concern.
Along with the life sentence for espionage and waging war against the state, Jasek was also sentenced to six months in prison for spreading false rumors undermining the authority of the state (“spreading false news aimed at tarnishing the image of Sudan”) and a fine of 100,000 Sudanese pounds (US$16,000) for working for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Sudan without a permit.
He was also sentenced to one year in prison each for inciting strife between communities, entry in and photography of military areas and equipment and illegal entry into Sudan.
Two Sudanese Christians remain behind bars, though they were convicted of “aiding and abetting” Jasek’s alleged espionage and sentenced to 12 years in prison. It was not clear whether Sudan would consider releasing the two Church leaders. Their cases are awaiting appeal.
The court in Khartoum convicted Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor and Abdulmonem Abdumawla of Darfur for assisting Jasek in the alleged espionage, causing hatred among communities and spreading false information, a defense attorney said. They received 10-year sentences for espionage-related charges, and two years of prison for “inciting hatred between sects” and “propagation of false news.” The sentences are to be served consecutively.
Pastor Tawor of the SCOC was arrested from his home on Dec. 18, 2015, as was Kwa (also transliterated Kuwa) Shamaal, head of Missions of the SCOC. Pastor Shamaal was acquitted on Jan. 2 of charges ranging from spying to inciting hatred against the government.
Abdumawla 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 Pastor Tawor, who donated money for Omer’s treatment, which reportedly raised the ire of Sudanese authorities.
Authorities also were said to have found Jasek also had given money for Omer’s medical costs, but prosecutors accused Jasek of donating it to rebel groups.
Prosecutors had charged Jasek, also arrested in December 2015, with “tarnishing Sudan’s image” by documenting persecution. At one hearing, an official with Sudan’s notorious National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) accused the defendants of conducting “hostile activities against the state that threaten the national and social security” in Sudan.
Foreign diplomats and international rights activists took notice of the case after Morning Star News broke the story of the arrest of two pastors in December 2015. Their arrest was 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 Al-Bashir has vowed to introduce a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and Arabic language.
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. 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.
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 2016 report.
Sudan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most persecution.