(This article was co-written with Scott A. Morgan, Intelligence Analyst, Red Eagle Enterprises)
It is yet another dark day for religious freedom, and for Christianity, in the Islamic Republic of Sudan. Two pastors from the neighboring country of South Sudan, the Reverend Michael Yat Ruot (also called Yat Michael Rout Puk) and the Reverend Peter Yen Reith (also called David Yein Reith) went on trial on May 19, charged with espionage and other crimes against the state under Sudan’s notorious Criminal Act of 1991. If the pastors are found guilty, three of the eight charges against them carry a possible death sentence. Punishments for the other “crimes” under which they are charged include a life sentence, confiscation of property, and flogging.
Just as last year the world took action on behalf of Sudanese Christian wife and mother Meriam Ibrahim who was imprisoned and threatened with a death sentence, we must rise to condemn the Sudanese government’s persecution of Yat and Yen. Yat, who was born in 1966, is married and has two children, a boy and a girl. Yen, born in 1979, is also married, and the father of a 2 year-old girl.
There must be an outcry that signals to Khartoum that fellow Christians and other concerned citizens around the world are aware of this egregious persecution of those who are considered to be Sudan’s “marginalized people” – in this case, marginalized for both their Christian faith and their African ethnicity as Southern Sudanese – and we will not tolerate it. That is the only way to persuade the regime to do the right thing.
According to information from Middle East Concern (MEC), Yat, who is from Juba, South Sudan, is an ordained minister in the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, (SSPEC). He was taken into custody by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) in December 2014 at the end of a service at the Bahri Evangelical Church where he was the guest preacher. Yat was in Khartoum seeking medical treatment for his young son.
Yen was taken into custody on January 11, 2015, after obeying orders to appear at the Religious Affairs Office in Khartoum. It is believed that Yen was arrested as a result of sending a letter to Sudanese authorities inquiring into the status of his colleague, from whom nothing had been heard since his arrest.
In a request for advocacy dated May 19, 2015, MEC reveals that both pastors had been held “incommunicado by the NISS until 1 March 2015.” MEC continues, “they then were referred to the Prosecutor for State Security.” MEC notes that “this is not the normal attorney-general who deals with criminal cases.” After all of this, their families and their lawyer were finally able to gain access to them. The series of hearings followed, with a procedural hearing on May 4, in which the following charges were declared:
Joint criminal acts (Article 21)
Undermining the constitutional system or endangering the unity or independence of the country (50)
Waging war against the State (51)
Unlawfully obtaining or disclosing information or official documents (55)
Agitating hatred (64)
Disturbing the peace (69)
The court hearing, which was supposed to take place on May 14, was postponed by the judge because the prosecutor could not produce his witness from NISS. As a result, the judge ordered the prosecutor to produce his witnesses at the May 19 hearing. At that hearing, the prosecutor did not finish presenting his case for conviction, so the trial was adjourned until this Sunday, May 31. After the prosecutor finishes, the defense lawyer will present his case.
As with most religious freedom violations in Sudan, there is an interesting back story. The Sudanese government is attempting to take the Bahri Evangelical Church’s compound away from the Christians and sell it to Muslim investors with the help of corrupt church officials that they forced upon the church. In November and December 2014 parts of the church compound were destroyed when government officials assisted the investors in attempting to take the property. Along with the imprisonment and false accusations against pastors and other Christians, these are ways in which the Islamic regime in Khartoum seeks to eradicate Christianity in the country and fill their own coffers at the same time.
As mentioned above, the next hearing takes place this Sunday, May 31. That does not give much time for advocacy, but you are urged to pray for Michael Yat Ruot and Peter Yen Reith.
The justice system in this Islamic state is not known for being fair to any of Sudan’s marginalized people groups, let alone South Sudanese Christians! Let’s raise our voices to demand that Sudan respect religious freedom and release these pastors.
(Depending on the results of Sunday’s trial, we will be providing appropriate advocacy measures, so WATCH THIS SPACE.)