Christians in Sudan only second-class citizens
Reinhard Backes, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada
Montreal, July 10, 2014 – The legal situation of Christians in Sudan is worrying. The Bishop of the South Sudanese diocese of Tambura-Yambio, Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala, made this clear when he visited the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN). “In Sudan bishops and priests have been living de facto as illegals since South Sudan’s independence,” Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala said.
Sudan’s constitution did guarantee all citizens equal rights regardless of their religious affiliation, but the reality was different: “When we confront those in charge with this they emphasize that Christians have the same rights as their compatriots, but this changes nothing in legal terms. Bishops and priests are not granted passports and they do not have legal status. They are able to leave the country but re-entry may be refused. Priests have already been expelled; and the bishops are condemned to remain silent,” Bishop Kussala claimed.
Condemned for apostasy
The Bishop of Tambura-Yambio explained: “Christians in Sudan can attend divine service unmolested, but there is no genuine freedom of religion and conscience in the country. This is illustrated by the disgraceful case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishaq, which, unlike any others, has been widely publicized.” This 27-year-old Sudanese woman, the daughter of a Muslim man and an Orthodox Christian woman, was arrested in May and initially condemned to death for “apostasy.” Bishop Kussala stated: “Among those around her she had long been known as a Christian. For whatever motives, she was blackmailed and then charged. The government expressed no view on the matter and simply left it all to the Islamic clerics.”
The accusation of apostasy was levelled at her because Meriam Isaq’s father is a Muslim. After he left the family her mother raised their common daughter as a Christian. Only in response to international pressure was Meriam Ishaq eventually released in June; this mother of two had previously been compelled to give birth to her youngest child in prison.
In the words of Bishop Kussala, discrimination against Christians in the north is not a recent development, but in its present form it is a reaction to the division of the country three years ago: “Because the Church has always called on those with political responsibility to respect the dignity of the people, their freedom and also their vote in favour of the independence of the South, it is now being made responsible for the South’s break-away. But the Church does not pursue any political aims. We only call upon politicians to respect freedom of religious faith and conscience.”
The Catholic Church still maintains ties across the new border in a joint Bishops’ Conference. One of its most important concerns is the inter-religious dialogue. Bishop Kussala estimates the number of Christians in Sudan at more than three million.