The courts convicted citizens of apostasy. Many of those convicted recanted their non-Islamic faith to avoid harsh penalties, including death.
On May 15, a local court sentenced Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag to 100 lashes and death by hanging for allegedly committing apostasy and adultery by marrying a Christian man, in a case brought against her by her family. Separate charges were pursued against her in a Muslim family affairs court. Ishag said she had been raised as Christian by her mother and identified herself as a Christian. The government released Ishag from custody after a higher court overturned her original sentence in June following significant international pressure, but prevented her from departing the country until a month later. Ishag’s lawyers cited difficulties in filing the case with the Constitutional Court due to delays in the criminal and family affairs courts.
In April the government arrested Faiza Abdullah when she attempted to file for national identification documents as a Christian with a Muslim name. Authorities released Abdullah during her trial in April, after she recanted her Christian faith. Her marriage to her Christian husband was subsequently annulled.
There were reports of blasphemy or defamation cases during the year. Local media reported that in May a local court convicted a young man in West Kordofan of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. He was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 500 SDG ($78).
Government officials continued to state that Islamic principles should inform official policies. President Bashir and other senior figures frequently emphasized the Islamic majority of the country, and asserted the separation of South Sudan further solidified the country’s Islamic identity. President Bashir and other senior leaders asserted the country should adopt a fully Islamic constitution.
There were reports that government security services closely monitored mosques.
The authorities imposed sanctions ranging from stern official warnings to arrest and detention of imams accused of making anti-government statements, inciting hatred, or espousing violent or Takfiri ideology, which considers other Muslims who do not follow a prescribed form of Islam apostates.
In July the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) temporarily detained, and later released, Salafist cleric Mohamed Ali Aljouzoli and banned him from giving Friday sermons. Online videos of Aljouzoli portrayed him inciting religious violence.
On September 20, the Ministry of Justice issued a decision to drop charges and close the criminal case of Amira Osman Hamed, a woman arrested in 2013 for refusing to wear a headscarf.
The government has suspended allocation of plots for most non-Islamic places of worship since the 1990s, but it continued to grant permits for the construction of mosques. In July the MGE reiterated the government’s policy of not granting permits for the construction of new churches that did not meet the government’s population density parameters. This law did not apply to mosques.
The government, citing zoning restrictions, low Christian population density, or national security, closed or demolished places of worship and cultural centers affiliated with religious institutions. Some churches said the government repeatedly denied them permits to construct churches.
In contrast to the previous years, the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) reported receiving formal complaints from its member churches regarding acts of discrimination and intimidation committed by the government. These complaints included instances in which Christians, including religious leaders, were detained and churches were closed, demolished, or prevented from opening.
On December 21, authorities arrested Rev. Yat Michael, a pastor from South Sudan who was visiting Khartoum. Michael had been preaching that morning at the Khartoum North location of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. At year’s end, the government had not confirmed Michael’s whereabouts or potential charges against him. It is unclear whether he was arrested due to his religious affiliation or for another reason.
Between November 17 and December 2, government authorities attempted to forcibly evict members of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPECS) of Bahri from land which an investor claimed he had purchased from the government-appointed Evangelical Community Council. On December 2, police attempted to evict church members and arrested 39 individuals during a prayer vigil on the church compound. One court acquitted 15 individuals; however, two other courts convicted 24 people of “public nuisance,” fined them 250 Sudanese pounds (SDG) ($39) and released them the same day. Church representatives stated the government wrongfully assisted investors to make a claim to the church’s land by appointing the members to the Evangelical Community Council, which had sold the land. In December the governor of Khartoum announced the formation of a four-person reconciliation committee to address what the government viewed as an administrative conflict within the church. At year’s end, legal cases to secure the Church’s land remained open.
In September the government ordered the closure of the Iranian cultural center in Khartoum. Local media cited some government officials as stating the center had sought to spread Shiism in the country and, as such, posed a national security threat.
On August 13, authorities closed the Khartoum Cultural Center of the Pentecostal Church, stating the facility where it held church services was in a zoned residential area. The government seized the property, despite the Pentecostal Church’s holding legal title to the land. Church leaders agreed with the government to use the center only for administrative purposes and not for worship services. As of year’s end, the property remained closed. The Constitutional Court accepted this case for review.
On June 30, government workers demolished the Church of Jesus Christ in Alizba, Khartoum North. Many of the church’s members were Nuban. Church officials stated the government had denied permit requests since the 1990s, when the church had opened. In November the MGE stated the church had not filed for a new plot of land. At year’s end the church reported the government continued to deny its requests.
The government restricted some religious-based political parties. In May the government Political Parties Affairs Council (PPAC) rejected the Sudanese Republican Brothers Party application to register as a political party. The PPAC argued the party’s political ideology was secular, thus contradicting the sharia basis of the constitution. A lawyer submitted a case to the Constitutional Court on behalf of the Republican Brothers Party.
The government restricted non-Muslim religious groups from operating or entering the country and continued to monitor activities and censor material published by religious institutions. The MGE granted a limited number of Christian missionary groups permission to engage in humanitarian activities and promote Muslim-Christian cooperation.
In July government authorities cancelled an interfaith workshop facilitated by the SCC and a U.S.-based NGO. Government officials said conference organizers had not registered participants or disclosed their financial sources to the government. Conference participants stated security officials questioned organizers about the Christian content of the event. The government allowed the NGO to conduct other activities throughout the country.
Some Christian churches reported they were required to pay or negotiate taxes on items such as vehicles, even though the government had previously granted them or their humanitarian institutions tax-exempt status.
Some church officials reported the government refused to grant, or delayed renewing, work and residency visas to church employees of foreign origin, including missionaries and clergy, or to individuals it thought would proselytize in public places. Individuals not in possession of a valid visa were required to pay a 40 SDG fine ($6.25) for every day they were not in status. The government only granted residence permits with less than one-year validity.
The government closely scrutinized those suspected of proselytizing and used administrative reasons, or other aspects of the law such as immigration status, either to deport them or to exert financial pressure on these individuals to refrain from proselytizing and leave the country. As a result, most non-Muslim groups refrained from public proselytizing.
In July the NISS closed a Korean-owned music school and confiscated its property. Government authorities claimed the school was used to proselytize. The school’s director, a Korean national, denied the allegation. The Korean national departed the country within 48 hours, as required by the government. In November the government forced a Korean engineer it suspected of supporting religious activities to leave the country within 72 hours.
Although the INC prohibits discrimination against candidates for the national civil service based on religion, some prominent ministries requested information on religious affiliation on their employment applications. Some official government documents also required identification of an individual’s religion.
Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of pro-government militias or government forces using anti-Christian slogans, but the government occasionally referred to rebel groups as secular or anti-Islamic or to rebel supporters as traitors and mercenaries implementing Western and Zionist programs.
A few Christian politicians held prominent seats in the government. These included the state minister of water resources and electricity as well as a member of the National Elections Commission.
Christian orphanages continued to operate in the country. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of government interference in the operation of the orphanages.
Prisons provided prayer space for Muslims. Some prisons, such as the Women’s Prison in Omdurman, had dedicated areas for Christian observance. Christian clergy held services in prisons, but access was irregular.
In May the Khartoum State Supreme Council for Social Peace, previously known as the Higher Council for Peaceful Co-Existence, a group comprised of government officials, religious leaders, and civil society members, reported its mission had changed from focusing on interreligious dialogue to broader issues of social concern.