In 2021, Sudan was one of the good news stories to emerge from the World Watch List report. Eighteen months on, there are fears that the Islamist grip on the country is tightening. This follows the military coup last October. Please pray that the positive steps made towards religious freedom in the country will be built upon rather than undone.
There have been positive steps towards religious freedom in Sudan, but the coup last year threatens to undo this
There are grave concerns over the Islamist direction Sudan seems to be taking following the military’s seizure of power more than eight months ago.
The coup took place in October 2021 and occurred following an escalation in hostilities between conservative Islamists who want a military government and those who toppled Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.
The overthrow of al-Bashir resulted in a fragile transitional government, with power shared between the military and civilian leaders. During this time, significant steps were made towards religious freedom, including abolishing the death penalty for leaving Islam. At the time, there were fears these steps would be undone – and latest developments have done little to dampen these concerns.
Since the coup, more than 100 civilians have been killed in protests. The military has also turned to the National Congress Party (NCP) of former dictator Omar al-Bashir and its sympathisers to consolidate its grip on power, while failing to follow up on pledges to restore civilian rule.
Furthermore, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan – who led the coup – has allowed hundreds of sacked employees to return to work in the central bank, the judiciary, prosecution service, state broadcaster and government ministries. Hundreds of bank accounts belonging to NCP members have also been unfrozen, and some of its leading members have been released from detention.
Burhan has also started assigning influential government positions to former members of the NCP. According to the BBC, this includes former East Darfur governor, Anas Omar, who is accused of human rights violations, and Muhammad Ali Al-Jizouli, who once supported the so-called Islamic State (IS).
Although al Bashir remains a prisoner of the junta and has been on trial since July 2020 for the coup which first brought him to power in 1989 (because that was what the pro-democracy forces had called for), there are concerns that he might eventually be released.
The international community is putting pressure on the military to loosen its grip. During a visit to Khartoum earlier this month, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee pressed its leaders to restore the civilian-led government, adding that it was crucial for the resumption of economic aid. The US Treasury also imposed sanctions on the Central Reserve Forces (a police unit) for its excessively violent repression of peaceful pro-democracy protests.
"We call on the international Christian community to remain in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Sudan" Jo Newhouse
“These developments are extremely concerning,” explains Jo Newhouse*, Open Doors’ spokesperson for work in sub-Saharan Africa. “Sudan’s transitional government made great progress towards official recognition of people’s human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.
“Although there was yet some way to go in ensuring respect for these rights in society, we are very concerned over the reinstatement and growing influence of Islamist elements in government, and the regression in the respect for human rights this has led to.
“The international community must remain diligent in holding the military junta accountable for their unlawful grabbing of power and for the human rights abuses they have allowed to take place since the coup.
“We call on the international Christian community to remain in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Sudan.”
*name changed for security reasons
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