By Reinhard Backes and John Newton of Aid to the Church in Need
A bishop has warned that more Sudanese Christians could suffer severe violations of human rights – like Meriam Ibrahim – stating that their legal protection in the country has been taken away.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio, in neighbouring South Sudan, described the “worrying” legal situation of Christians since his country seceded from Sudan in July 2011.
Stressing concerns for fellow clergy in particular, Bishop Hiiboro said: “In Sudan bishops and priests have been living de facto as illegals since South Sudan’s independence.”
While Sudan’s constitution guarantees equal rights regardless of a person’s religion, Christians face discrimination under the law.
The bishop said: “When we confront those in charge with this, they emphasise that Christians have the same rights as their compatriots, but this changes nothing in legal terms.
“Bishops and priests are not granted passports and they do not have legal status. They are able to leave the country but re-entry may be refused.
“Priests have already been expelled – and the bishops are condemned to remain silent.”
The Bishop of Tombura-Yambio told ACN that, while there is freedom of worship for Sudan’s more than 3 million Christians, they do not have the full protection under the law.
He said: “Christians in Sudan can attend divine service unmolested, but there is no genuine freedom of religion and conscience in the country.
“This is illustrated by the disgraceful case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishaq, which, unlike any others, has been widely publicised.”
This 27-year-old Sudanese Christian woman was arrested in May and condemned to death and 100 lashes for apostasy and adultery, before courts quashed her sentence.
Bishop Hiiboro said: “Among those around her she had long been known as a Christian. For whatever motives, she was blackmailed and then charged. The government expressed no view on the matter and simply left it all to the Islamic clerics.”
The accusation of apostasy came because Meriam Ibrahim’s father was Muslim, but her mother was Orthodox and raised her as a Christian.
Meriam Ibrahim was only released in June following international pressure, having given birth to her younger child while shackled in prison.
The family is sheltering in the US embassy – her husband Daniel Wani is a US citizen – after allegations of forged travel papers prevented them leaving Sudan for the US.
According to Bishop Hiiboro, discrimination against Christians is a reaction to the division of the country three years ago.
He said: “Because the Church has always called on those with political responsibility to respect the dignity of the people, their freedom and also their vote in favour of the independence of the South, it is now being made responsible for the South’s break-away.
“But the Church does not pursue any political aims. We only call upon politicians to respect freedom of religious faith and conscience.”
There is still a joint Catholic Bishops’ Conference for Sudan and South Sudan, which has the inter-religious dialogue with Muslims as one of its key concerns.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS);www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)