Muslim soldiers detain, torture Christians in Sudan

By Morning Star News |
Location of East Darfur state, Sudan.
Location of East Darfur state, Sudan. | (TUBS, Creative Commons)

Three Christians were detained and tortured for weeks in southern Sudan after soldiers at a Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) checkpoint found one of them carrying a Bible, one of the victims said.

Hamza Haroon Ahmed is still recovering from injuries he suffered after SAF soldiers at a military checkpoint in El Daein, East Darfur state, detained him and two other Sudanese refugees as they re-entered Sudan from South Sudan on Jan. 16. The three Sudanese Christians, who had re-entered Sudan in an effort to move their families away from war dangers to safety in South Sudan, were released in March.

“Whose Bible is this?” a Muslim soldier asked them at the checkpoint, Ahmed said.

Ahmed admitted ownership as the Arabic-language Bible was in his bag, but his two companions, both recent converts from Islam, refused to abandon him and went to jail with him, he said.

All three Christians were jailed and tortured under harsh conditions, he said. During interrogations, one of the Muslim soldiers beating them with wooden sticks broke Ahmed’s right hand, he said.

“You have caused confusion in the country because of your book, and now you are going to cause more damage,” the soldier said, according to Ahmed.

He said he prayed for God to help him as he was being tortured by the Muslim solider.

“I was wondering, ‘What did I do to deserve all this persecution,’ I told God in my prayer,” Ahmed told Morning Star News. “They insulted us and said, ‘You have messed up this country with your Bible, and you are still going to Darfur to cause more confusion among the people.’”

Fighting in Sudan between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the SAF broke out in April 2023. The conflict 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 14,600 people dead and displacing an estimated 8 million others inside and outside the country.

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 2023 agreed on a framework to re-establish a democratic transition the next month, 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, 2023.

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

Christian sites have been targeted since the conflict began.

In Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Sudan was ranked No. 8, up from No. 10 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.

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 feared 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 Oct. 25, 2021 coup.

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.

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