Two Sudanese church leaders have been found guilty of criminal misappropriation and trespass, following a long-running dispute over church land and property.

Rafat Samir, chairman of the Lands and Buildings Committee of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC), and Rev Daniel William, the deputy chairman, were each fined 5,000 Sudanese pounds (approximately $US750) by a court in Khartoum on 30th October. 

Christian Solidarity Worldwide called their conviction and the punishment “unjust”.

“We condemn the unjust trial and conviction of Mr Obid and Reverend William," said CEO Mervyn Thomas. "We call on the judiciary to review the ruling immediately, to acquit the men and to reimburse the fines they have paid. We also call on the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments to implement the August 2015 administrative court decision and to authorise the committee led by Mr Obid to act on behalf of the church.”

The conflict originates in a dispute between SPEC and the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments, which in 2013 authorised and charged an illegally convened land and buildings committee with the administration of the SPEC’s church property.

Church leaders say this government-backed committee has been interfering with internal church matters and involved in selling off property to investors.

Mr Samir, who was appointed chair of the church council in 2012, was first arrested in April, 2016, following allegations by his predecessor of trespassing, criminal possession and illegally impersonating the chair of the council – a role his predecessor, Hamad Muhammad Salah, claims still belongs to him.

Mr Salah was dismissed from the role in 2012 for fraud, but the government reinstated him, even though it had no legal authority to do so.

Since his reinstatement, Mr Salah has sold off church property to businessmen with links to the government, even though last year an administrative court in Sudan ruled that Samir, not Salah, is the legal chair of the Council.

Several members of SPEC have been detained or assaulted after peacefully protesting at the selling off or demolition of their buildings, including their homes.

On 26th April police and an armed mob occupied part of the SPEC compound in Omdurman. It was the same location where, earlier that month, two church members were stabbed during a protest against appropriation of a school there.

Meanwhile, five leaders of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC), who were charged with sound pollution, have had their case postponed until mid-November.

CSW said the five men - including Rev Ayoub Tilyan, chairman of the church Executive Leadership Committee, and Reverend Ali Haakim Al Am, who leads the congregation - were detained and questioned for more than six hours before being charged. They have now been released and are awaiting trial.

CSW's Mr Thomas said he was "deeply concerned" over the case. "These arrests of religious leaders and the order to prevent churches from holding services are violations of the constitutionally guaranteed right to religious freedom," he said. "We urge the Sudanese authorities to drop all charges against these church leaders, and to overturn the decision to impose an unelected leadership committee on the SCOC. We also call on the international community to urge Sudan to comply with its national and international commitments to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief."

- with World Watch Monitor