According to international standards and more specifically Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of religion, and the right to express that religion in both private and public.
This universal right is of course challenged and undermined, usually through religious persecution, religious genocide and religious cleansing.
No one knows this better than the Christians of Sudan.
They have suffered persecution for many years.
Yat Michael (left), Peter Yen Reith (right)
Photo: Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Currently, Pastor Michael Yat and Pastor Peter Yen Reith, who belong to the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church are being held in prison – charged with espionage and blasphemy, initially detained without charge in December 2014 and again in January.
Not just in any prison, but in separate cells in the notorious Kober Prison, which is controlled by the National Intelligence Security Service, and is known to be harsh towards Christians in Sudan, as reported by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). The Pastors are chained up on a daily basis – which amounts to degrading treatment, which is a direct a violation of Article 7 of the ICCPR.
The continued refusal to allow legal visits at Kober Prison and the conditions in which the pastors are being detained are in violation of their right to a fair trial, as articulated in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sudan is a party.
The two men have been accused of undermining the constitutional system of the Sudanese Penal Code; for waging war against the state; for disclosure and receipt of official information or documents; for arousing feelings of discontent among regular forces; for breach of public peace; and for offences relating to insulting religious beliefs.
Two of these charges carry the death penalty or life imprisonment in the event of a guilty verdict. The pastors case has faced delays because the government and prosecution have failed to produce any credible evidence against the two.
The American Centre for Law and Justice has reported: after a full day of trial today, in which the judge questioned both Pastor Michael and Pastor Peter, the judge concluded there was sufficient evidence to “charge” both pastors with the offenses alleged against them. Under Sudanese criminal procedure, the charge is not a conviction; rather it comes with a presumption that the defense must now counter by presenting evidence of the men’s innocence.
The court has called for the defense to put on its case on July 14th. After the defense is presented, the Court will have a final opportunity to review all the evidence presented and drop the charges or convict the Pastors.
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies claims that the charges are based solely on their religious convictions and criticism of the ruling party. It suggests that the trial is intended to send a message to other Christian leaders in Sudan to refrain from criticising government policies.
The human rights group Amnesty International recently appealed for the two pastors’ release, saying the two men are “prisoners of conscience, arrested, detained and charged solely because of their peaceful expression of their religious convictions.”
The international legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice has been in contact with advocates who are representing the families of Pastors Yat Michael and Peter Yan.
Sudan ranks sixth in the 2015 World Watch List.
Although on paper Sudan guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of religion, Christians face strict laws imposed by the Islamic government and apostasy is still legally punishable by death. Despite this, the church in Sudan is growing, according to Open Doors research.
As Mariam Ibrahim has said, “Being Christian is not a crime.” Yet for these two Pastors, they could be sentenced to death for expressing their Christian faith. We cannot be silent.
As we continue advocating for their freedom, please pray for Pastor Michael, Pastor Peter, and their families, and join nearly 200,000 in signing our petition for their freedom at BeHeardProject.com.