30 January 2017

Severe prison sentences for Czech aid worker and two Sudanese men imprisoned in Khartoum, Sudan

Speaking today, 30.01.17, about the harsh prison sentences handed down to a Czech aid worker and two Sudanese men imprisoned in Sudan, Lisa Pearce, Chief Executive of Open Doors UK & Ireland, said: "I am deeply saddened to hear this verdict. Sudan is number five on our World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian. Our supporters have been following the developments and praying for the three men who received these harsh sentences. We will be asking them to pray for Petr, Abulmonem and Hassan, that they be set free from prison."

A Czech aid worker, Petr Jašek, 52, was sentenced to 23-and-a-half years after being found guilty of various charges, including spying. He was also fined 100,000 Sudanese pounds (around £12,300) for undertaking NGO work without a permit, and to one year in prison each (to be served consecutively) for inciting strife between communities, for entry in and photography of military areas and equipment, and illegal entry into Sudan

The other two men - a Sudanese church leader, Hassan Taour, and a Darfuri graduate, Abdulmonem Abdumawla - were each sentenced to ten years for abetting Jasek in the crime of espionage, and one year each for inciting strife between communities and spreading rumours that undermine the authority of the state (even though the legal maximum penalty for this last crime is six months in prison). All of these sentences are to be served consecutively, making a total of 12 years. The men's lawyers have indicated they will appeal the sentences within 15 days.

Open Doors partners in Sudan reported that yesterday's (29 January) verdict was pronounced in the presence of a large number of Christians, who reacted with great shock and sadness. Taour's mother was reportedly so shocked that she fainted and needed to be escorted from the room.

The case against the three men centered around Jašek's support for a Sudanese student injured during a protest in 2013. Jašek was stopped as he attempted to leave Sudan in December 2015 and found in possession of a receipt, detailing his $5,000 (around £3,995) contribution to the student, Ali Omer.

Jašek said the money was for Omer's medical costs, but the prosecution alleged that it was a donation to rebel groups in the southern regions of South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur. Both Taour and fellow pastor Kuwa Shamal, who was released earlier this month, are from South Kordofan, while Abdumawla is from Darfur.

South Kordofan's capital is in the Nuba Mountains, a region where the persecution of Christians is extremely high. Looting and destruction of churches, hospitals and schools is common especially in the Nuba Mountains' region. Despite the fact that President al-Bashir faces two international arrest warrants, this persecution continues unabated.

The 2017 World Watch List top ten is as follows. Countries in red have seen a rise in persecution levels.

WWL position 2017CountryPoints 2017WWL position 2016Points 2016
1North Korea92192
2Somalia91787
3Afghanistan89488
4Pakistan88687
5Sudan87884
6Syria86587
7Iraq86290
8Iran85983
9Yemen851178
10Eritrea82389

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Note to editors:

For more information contact open doors press office on 01993 777377 or 07484 000 441

The World Watch List is based on detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life - private, family, community, national and church life- plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.

The Open Doors World Watch List is the only instrument that measures the persecution of Christians annually. Its methodology is designed to track how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed in five distinct areas - private life, family life, community life, national life and church life - as well as covering violence such as rapes, killings and church burnings. Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Director of Research at Open Doors International, explains why: "It is possible for persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness at all. You may find very low levels of violence as a result, because incidents of violent persecution are often a response to acts of witness."

Violent incidents - World Watch Research for Open Doors records the following as violent incidents: killings, physical aggression, threats, destruction of churches or other Christian buildings (burnings), attempts to destroy churches or Christian buildings, closed or hindered churches or Christian buildings, house expulsion or destruction (displacements), kidnap for ransom or intimidation (abduction), sexual assault (rape, forced marriages, etc.), arrests, forced to leave the country or displaced.

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources, in over 60 countries. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.