Khartoum — The Commissioner of Jebel Awliya locality has denied that the demolition of the church building in south-east Khartoum earlier this month is part of a discrimination campaign against Christians.
The recent actions of the authorities to purge the Soba El Aradi district of illegal buildings did not affect the Sudanese Church of Christ alone, Commissioner Jalaleldin El Sheikh El Tayeb said in a press statement on Thursday.
He strongly denied that the demolition of a church building in Soba Aradi targeted Christians, and pointed to the decision of the Khartoum state Land Department in 2012 to remove all illegal buildings in Soba Aradi.
Other religious and educational institutions are affected as well, he said. The removal order included 12 mosques and Koran schools, three churches, and two schools.
According to the commissioner, the authorities have planned a housing project for more than 7,000 people in Soba Aradi.
On Sunday 7 May, police and the Khartoum Land Protection forces, backed by security agents, arrived at the church of the Sudanese Church of Christ in the Soba Aradi district with bulldozers.
The security agents held two pastors for several hours. "They were only released after they forcibly signed a pledge not to photograph the site after the demolition of the church," lawyer Dimas James Marajan told Radio Dabanga.
"The action is entirely illegal and unconstitutional. It was carried out without prior notification or a removal order by the Ministry of Physical Planning in Khartoum State, which is the body responsible for such decisions," the lawyer said.
The US Chargé d'Affaires ad interim visited the site of the church a few days after it was bulldozed to rubble. He expressed the hope that this was "an isolated incident", and called for "a speedy inquiry".
After the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, President Omar Al Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of the Sharia (Islamic law). Reports of persecution of Christians in Sudan increased. The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted to build new churches in the country, pointing to the return of many mainly Christian South Sudanese refugees to their own country.
The Sudan Democracy First Group stated in a recent report about the growing discrimination against Christians in the country that "An additional layer of discrimination becomes visible, when taking into account that large proportions of Sudanese Christians are originating from the conflict zones in the Nuba Mountains. Security forces have thereby additionally labelled their religious communities as a security threat."
Sudan's treatment of Christians and other human rights violations saw it designated a Country of Particular Concern by the US State Department since 1999, and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2015 report.