11th May, 2016

Sudan this week released one of two church leaders jailed since December, sources said.

Telahoon Nogose Kassa, head of discipleship at the embattled Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church, was released after Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) arrested him without charges on 13th December, 2015, according to church members.

“Finally, Telahoon is released, thanks for your prayers and hope the rest will be released,” Kassa’s brother wrote on his Facebook page.

It was unclear why Kassa was released, but NISS can hold detainees for up to four-and-a-half months without judicial review, according to Human Rights Watch. Sudan was also subject to a United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review on human rights abuses last week.

Historically holding wide-ranging powers to arrest people without cause, NISS was further empowered in January, 2015, by amendments to Sudan’s constitution, which designated it a regular security force with a broader mandate to combat “political and social threats.” Said to be staffed by hard-line Islamists, NISS is known for its torture and other abusive tactics.

NISS agents went to the home of the 36-year-old Kassa the night of 13th December last year and told him to report to their offices, sources said. When he went to a NISS office the following day, they said, officials arrested him and took him to a detention centre in Khartoum.

NISS officials gave no reasons for the arrest, though they questioned him for five consecutive days about his relationship with a foreign missionary who had attended a discipleship class, sources said. They believe he was targeted for his Christian activities and his opposition to government interference with his church.

Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church has fought a government takeover of its property. Kassa’s arrest came four months after two South Sudanese pastors, Rev Peter Yein Reith and Rev Yat Michael, were released following eight months in prison on false charges of capital crimes due to their efforts to defend the church against the illegal sale of its property.

Michael, 49, was arrested in December, 2014, after encouraging Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church; the church was the subject of government harassment, arrests and demolition of part of its worship center as Muslim investors have tried to take it over. Reith, 36, was arrested on 11th January, 2015, after submitting a letter from South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church leaders inquiring about the whereabouts of Michael.

A pastor with another church who was arrested in December remains in detention without charges. Authorities arrested Rev Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor, vice-moderator of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC), at his home on 18th December, 2015. No charges have been brought against him, although NISS officials were said to have objected to his Christian activities.

NISS had also required another SCOC leader, the Rev. Kwa Shamaal, to report daily. He was arrested on 18th December and released on 21st December but had been required to report daily to a NISS office, where he was held from 8am until midnight. That requirement was removed on 16th January.

Many SCOC and other church members are from the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, where the government is fighting an insurgency. Ethnic Nuba, along with Christians, face discrimination in Sudan, where President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.

- Morning Star News