Christian buildings targeted in military conflict in Sudan

SPEC church building in ruins after shelling on 1 November in Omdurman, Sudan.(Photo: Morning Star News)

At least two Christian buildings were bombed last week amid fighting between rival military factions in Sudan, sources said.

On Wednesday 1 November a Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) building in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, came under heavy shelling from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) at about 9 p.m. that left its worship structure in ruins, two SPEC sources said.

Several people were at the SPEC compound, which includes an orphanage, but were unhurt.

The SPEC church building was hit three times, causing severe damage especially to its roof. Everything inside was destroyed, including Bibles and hymnbooks, one of the sources said.

“Pray that peace comes to Sudan” said one of the SPEC members who escaped injury.

Christians on social media in Sudan condemned the attacks.

A Roman Catholic building in the Al-Shajara area south of Khartoum was bombed on Friday 3 November, injuring at least five nuns, according to a local source whose name is withheld for security reasons. It was unclear whether the SAF or the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) battling each other targeted the structure, and at this writing Morning Star News was unable to independently confirm the reported shelling.

The RSF has been fighting the SAF since April 15. Fighting between the RSF and the SAF, which had shared military rule in Sudan following an October 2021 coup, has terrorized civilians in Khartoum and elsewhere, leaving more than 10,000 people dead, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. Another 5.6 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to fighting, according to an October 15 statement by the United Nations.

Christian sites have been targeted since the conflict began in April. On May 14 unidentified gunmen attacked the Coptic Orthodox Church of Mar Girgis (St. George) in the Masalma area of Omdurman, according to Egyptian news outlet Watani.

The RSF on May 15 seized a central Khartoum cathedral after having evacuated the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary near the presidential palace on May 14, converting the latter into a military headquarters, according to Egyptian news outlet Mada. Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) noted the RSF had reportedly been intimidating and harassing those in the church for a week before forcing them to leave.

The RSF reportedly stormed buildings of the Episcopal church on Khartoum’s First Street on May 16 to use as a strategic base, Mada new outlet reported, adding that a vehicle belonging to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum was stolen at gunpoint.

On May 3, a Coptic Church in Khartoum North (Bahri) was attacked, after the Evangelical Church in the same area was bombed and partially burned in April, CSW reported.

On April 28, the Gerief Bible School in the Gerief West area of Khartoum was bombed. Its worship auditorium, halls and student dorms were destroyed, an area source told Morning Star News.

On April 17, gunmen raided the compound of the Anglican cathedral in Khartoum, the United Kingdom-based Church Times reported.

The SAF’s Gen. Abdelfattah al-Burhan and his then-vice president, RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, were in power when civilian parties in March agreed on a framework to re-establish a democratic transition in April, but disagreements over military structure torpedoed final approval.

Burhan sought to place the RSF – a paramilitary outfit with roots in the Janjaweed militias that had helped former strongman Omar al-Bashir put down rebels – under the regular army’s control within two years, while Dagolo would accept integration within nothing fewer than 10 years. The conflict burst into military fighting on April 15.

Both military leaders have Islamist backgrounds while trying to portray themselves to the international community as pro-democracy advocates of religious freedom.

Following two years of advances in religious freedom in Sudan after the end of the Islamist dictatorship under Bashir in 2019, the specter of state-sponsored persecution returned with the military coup of Oct. 25, 2021.

After Bashir was ousted from 30 years of power in April 2019, the transitional civilian-military government had managed to undo some sharia (Islamic law) provisions. It outlawed the labeling of any religious group “infidels” and thus effectively rescinded apostasy laws that made leaving Islam punishable by death.

With the Oct. 25, 2021 coup, Christians in Sudan fear the return of the most repressive and harsh aspects of Islamic law. Abdalla Hamdok, who had led a transitional government as prime minister starting in September 2019, was detained under house arrest for nearly a month before he was released and reinstated in a tenuous power-sharing agreement in November 2021.

Hamdock had been faced with rooting out longstanding corruption and an Islamist “deep state” from Bashir’s regime – the same deep state that is suspected of rooting out the transitional government in the October 25, 2021 coup.

Persecution of Christians by non-state actors continued before and after the coup.

In Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Sudan was ranked No. 10, up from No. 13 the previous year, as attacks by non-state actors continued and religious freedom reforms at the national level were not enacted locally.

Sudan had dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in six years when it first ranked No. 13 in the 2021 World Watch List.

The U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report states that conditions have improved somewhat with the decriminalization of apostasy and a halt to demolition of churches, but that conservative Islam still dominates society; Christians face discrimination, including problems in obtaining licenses for constructing church buildings.

The U.S. State Department in 2019 removed Sudan from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) that engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom” and upgraded it to a watch list. Sudan had previously been designated as a CPC from 1999 to 2018.

In December 2020, the State Department removed Sudan from its Special Watch List.

The Christian population of Sudan is estimated at 2 million, or 4.5 percent of the total population of more than 43 million.

© Morning Star News


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