6 July 2015

Sudan: South Sudanese Priests Defend Themselves During Trial Session

Khartoum North — The trial of South Sudanese pastors Yat Michael Ruot and David Yein Reith continued on Thursday, when both men appeared in court to defend themselves.

During the hearing, they were questioned regarding documents found on their computers, including church reports, maps showing the population and topography of Khartoum, Christian literature, and a study of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

The two pastors said they did not know how the NISS document appeared on their computers. They further asked whether it is illegal to access Google and get information about Sudan including maps from the internet.

A lawyer of the defence team said that he was allowed to speak to his client for ten minutes only, which, he complained, is not enough to prepare a defence.

The next trial session will be held on 14 July, Radio Tamazuj reported on Sunday.

During a visit to Khartoum, Rev. Ruot was detained by security officers on 21 December, after he had been preaching that morning at the Sudanese Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Khartoum North.

Rev. Reith, also visiting Khartoum, was detained on 11 January, when he responded to summons to report to an office of the security service. It appears that his detention was linked to a letter he delivered to the Religious Affairs Office in Khartoum inquiring about Rev. Ruot's wherabouts.

Both were held incommunicado until 1 March, when they were charged by the NISs of espionage, offending Islam, and undermining the constitutional order. Two of the charges carry the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Detained

On Wednesday, a member of the defence team of the two South Sudanese pastors was held by policemen in Khartoum North.

Mohanad Mustafa was held when he peacefully participated in a protest against an attempt to demolish part of an Evangelical Church in the northern city of Greater-Khartoum. A pastor was also detained.

Mustafa has been charged under Article 99 of the Sudanese Penal Code which calls for imprisonment of not less than six months, a fine, or both for anyone who obstructs a public servant or uses criminal force to stop him from carrying out his duties.

There have been previous disputes over the ownership of the church. The Bahri Evangelical Church is part of the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination and has been in an ongoing legal battle with the Sudanese authorities, who have attempted to sell church land to a Muslim businessman, Christian Solidarity Worldwide stated last February.

In November last year, police raided the church premises, and demolished a large part of the compound. A church member told Radio Dabanga at the time that the police accompanied investors who claimed to have leased the premises. On 2 December, the police entered the compound again, and began destroying the remaining buildings. 37 young parish members who were praying in the church, and protested against the demolition, were detained.

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