JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – Masked gunmen in an area south of Khartoum, Sudan attacked a government religious affairs worker at midnight on Friday (July 2) and threatened to kill him for supporting return of church properties to Christians, sources said.
Botrous Badawi, a Christian and an advisor to the minister of Sudan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments, told Morning Star News by phone that four gunmen followed his vehicle before stopping in front of his car and ordering him to get out. Armed with AK-47 assault rifles, they beat Badawi and threatened to kill him if he continued advocating the return of Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church property to SPEC, he said.
“Next time we will kill you if you talk about SPEC property again,” one of the attackers told him, Badawi said.
One of the assailants struck him with his rifle, Badawi said, adding that he had also received several threatening text messages before the assault.
“We will use means that you might not like, and we will confront you with all weapons we have,” one of the text messages said.
The Christian official received hospital treatment for injuries on several parts of his body. Badawi has advocated for return of church properties confiscated under the previous regime, including comments published in a local news outlet.
Demas Mragan of the Deborah Center for Advocacy and Legal Consultations said the attack occurred at midnight (technically 12 a.m. Saturday, July 3) in the Hai Salama area south of Khartoum.
Badawi said he did not recognize the assailants, but that he suspected they were agents of the former National Intelligence Security Service (NISS), a notorious agency with an Islamist bent that the new transitional government has replaced with the General Intelligence Service.
The attackers were said to be driving a Tosha model vehicle with tinted windows and without license plate numbers.
Christians in Sudan are still awaiting the return of properties seized by the government under the Islamist regime of Omar al-Bashir, ousted in April 2019.
In March 2020 Sudan ordered the removal of committees imposed on churches by Bashir’s government. The move was expected to return oversight of church properties to their rightful church owners, and Christians leaders are awaiting legal action needed to regain them. They are demanding that the transitional government return all church buildings, lands and properties wrongfully confiscated by the former regime. The confiscated properties included 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.
In light of advances in religious freedom since Bashir was ousted, the U.S. State Department announced on Dec. 20, 2019 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. The State Department removed Sudan from the Special Watch List in December 2020. Sudan had previously been designated as a CPC from 1999 to 2018 and was moved to the Special Watch List in 2019.
Sudan’s recent Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Act prohibits the labeling of any group as “infidels,” (takfir), the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) noted in a September 2020 report.
The transitional government sworn in on Sept. 8, 2019 led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, an economist, has been 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.
After Bashir was deposed, 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.
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 had 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 had 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.
Sudan ranked 13th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.