A Sudanese court has dismissed charges against Pastor Hafez Mengisto and church lawyer Mohaned Mustafa, accused of preventing a public official from carrying out his duties. The official arrived at the church with a government order to demolish part of its property in the country’s capital city and attempted to demolish another part not included within the court order. However, the authorities arrested two more pastors and a Christian activist in Khartoum and Omdurman in December.
The Khartoum Bahri Criminal Court began the trial for both Pastor Mengisto and Mohaned Mustafa on 14 December, five months after they were arrested and held briefly. The church lawyer was acquitted on 23 December, but Pastor Hafez Mengisto had to wait until 29 December to hear the good news that he, too, had been cleared of the charge.
Pastor Mengisto is a senior church leader of the same church that had been visited by two South Sudanese pastors who were then arrested and escaped a possible death sentence for trumped-up charges brought against them. It was Mohaned Mustafa who defended the two pastors.
The church in Khartoum has come under considerable government pressure and parts of the church property were destroyed in December 2014. South Sudanese Pastor Yat Michael was arrested in December 2014 for visiting the church and Pastor Peter Yein Reith was arrested a month later when he went to find out about the whereabouts of Pastor Yat. Both men were released last August and arrived safely in South Sudan.
However, on 14 December 2015, agents from Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) arrested Christian activist Talahon Nigosi Kassa Ratta in Khartoum. And on 19 December, NISS agents simultaneously arrested Pastors Kwa Shamal and Hassan Abduraheem from their respective homes in Khartoum and Omdurman at 7 am.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Pastor Kwa Shamal had unsuccessfully appealed against government demolition of a church he led in Khartoum, and the Christian activist had helped organise demonstrations against the interference of Sudanese authorities in the property of a Khartoum church.
The locations of all three men are unknown and no formal charges have been brought against them.
Numerous church buildings and Christian institutions have been demolished and the government has said no more permits for new church buildings will be granted. Police in Omdurman, Sudan’s largest city, bulldozed a church building last October, claiming the land on which it was built had been allocated for a proposed marketplace. The State Governor, however, had assured church leaders the day before that the building would not be destroyed.