Christian leaders in Sudan rejoiced when the new transitional government on Wednesday (March 25) released a truck confiscated eight years ago from a Baptist church.
The Rev. Philemon Hassan Kharata, a well-known gospel music composer and singer and senior pastor of the church, confirmed the release of the truck on his Facebook page, with many Sudanese Christians taking to social media to express their joy.
“Finally, the truck is released,” Kharata wrote in Arabic. “This vehicle which belonged to the Baptist Church has been seized in Kosti since 2012, when it was traveling to El-Obeid town carrying some youths and Christian literature to celebrate Christmas.”
Christians were taking the truck from Khartoum to El-Obeid in western Sudan for a Christmas celebration with other churches when the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) stopped it in Kosti, 313 kilometers (194 miles) south of the Sudanese capital, he said.
NISS, long notorious for abuse of broad powers granted to it by the former regime of Omar al-Bashir, arrested young Christian men on the truck for carrying Christian literature and other outreach materials. The Christians were later released.
Sudanese Christians took to Facebook to express their gladness, most of them expressing faith in God for answering their prayers.
“We thank God because time has come to restore everything stolen by the enemy spiritually and physically,” Jackson William Daniel wrote in Arabic on his Facebook page.
Christians in Sudan are still awaiting the return of properties seized by the government under Bashir, with some church leaders voicing concern over empty promises and lack of action.
“We need actions, not promises,” the Rev. Yahia Abdelrahim Nalu, head of Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC), told Morning Star News.
Earlier this month Sudan ordered the removal of committees imposed on churches by Bashir’s Islamist government. The move was expected to return oversight of church properties to their rightful church owners, and Christian leaders are awaiting legal action needed to regain them.
In September pastor Mobarak Hamad demanded that the transitional government return all church buildings, lands and properties wrongfully confiscated by the former regime. The confiscated properties include those of the SPEC and the Sudanese Church of Christ, as well as the Catholic Club and another building belonging to the Sudan Interior Church.
The Catholic Club, strategically located near the Khartoum International Airport, was turned into the headquarters of Bashir’s National Congress Party. The Sudan Interior Church building, used by the Khartoum International Church and other Christian organizations, was turned into offices for the former NISS.
On July 29, Chairman of the Military Council Abdul Fattah Al-Burhan issued a decision to amend the name of NISS to the General Intelligence Service. The measure also froze Article 50 of the Law of Security Service, which had given NISS broad powers of inspection and detention without cause, widely misused against Christians and political opponents.
Following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Bashir had vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. Church leaders said Sudanese authorities demolished or confiscated churches and limited Christian literature on the pretext that most Christians have left the country following South Sudan’s secession.
In April 2013 the then-Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population. Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings. Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who did not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians.
After Bashir was deposed in April 2019, military leaders initially formed a military council to rule the country, but further demonstrations led them to accept a transitional government of civilians and military figures, with a predominantly civilian government to be democratically elected in three years. Christians were expected to have greater voice under the new administration.
The new government sworn in on Sept. 8, 2019 is led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, an economist tasked with governing during a transition period of 39 months. It faces the challenges of rooting out longstanding corruption and an Islamist “deep state” rooted in Bashir’s 30 years of power.
In light of advances in religious freedom since Bashir was ousted, the U.S. State Department announced on Dec. 20 that Sudan had been removed from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) that engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom” and was upgraded to a watch list.
Sudan had been designated a CPC by the U.S. State Department since 1999.
Sudan ranked 7th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.