Trial begins for two church leaders, two others.By Our Sudan Correspondent
JUBA, South Sudan, August 22, 2016(Morning Star News) – Prosecutors in Sudan yesterday accused two church leaders and two others of tarnishing the image of the country and crimes calling for the death penalty, sources said.

The trial began yesterday after it was postponed on Aug. 14 when authorities failed to transfer the pastors to court, a defense attorney told Morning Star News. Yesterday prosecutors presented investigators from Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in calling on the court in Khartoum to execute the Rev. Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor and the Rev. Kwa Shamaal, both of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC), for at least seven alleged crimes against the state, the defense attorney said.

He said the defense team is bracing for the charges concocted, which include the capital crimes of espionage and waging war against the state. In court yesterday, Abdelrahim denied all charges that NISS, said to be staffed by hard-line Islamists with broad powers to arrest people the government deems undesirable, brought against him, the attorney said.

“We are 100 percent ready to defend our clients,” the attorney said.

The pastors have also been charged with: complicity to execute a criminal agreement; calling for opposition of the public authority by violence or criminal force; exciting hatred between classes; propagation of false news article; and entry and photograph of military areas and equipment.

“There is no evidence against the two pastors,” a relative of one of the church leaders told Morning Star News.

Since the pastors’ transfer from a holding cell to Al-Huda Prison on Aug. 11, prison officials have denied them visitors, telling one family member, “Visits are not allowed.” Abdelrahim’s family has been concerned for his health as they have been unable to provide him with the medication he needs for stomach ulcers, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Also charged is Abdulmonem Abdumawla of Darfur, a Muslim who was arrested in December after he began collecting money to help a friend, Ali Omer, who had needed treatment for burns suffered in a student demonstration. Abdumawla contacted Abdelrahim, who donated money for Omer’s treatment, which apparently raised the ire of Sudanese authorities, according to CSW.

Omer had been injured during a demonstration at Quran Karim University in Omdurman last year that left him with severe burns that require regular medical care, according to CSW. A senior member of the student wing of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) died when 150 NCP students attacked Darfuri students at a meeting at Sharg El Nil College in Khartoum in April 2015, CSW reported.

“Since that incident, Darfuri students have been increasingly targeted by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS),” CSW reported. “By May 2015, over 100 Darfuri students were detained by NISS in Khartoum and during 2016, NISS has violently suppressed peaceful student demonstrations against government repression.”

Shamaal, head of missions for the SCOC, was arrested on Dec.18, as was Abdelrahim. Shamaal was released on Dec. 21 but was required to report to NISS offices daily, a requirement that was removed on Jan. 16. Shamaal was re-arrested on May 25.

Many church members, mostly from the SCOC, gathered outside of the courtroom to show their solidarity with the two pastors, singing songs calling for their release.

The court appears to be trying to package the case of Omer and the two pastors together with that of a fourth defendant, 52-year-old Petr Jasek, a Christian from the Czech Republic whom NISS accuses of entering the country illegally in October of last year, espionage and tarnishing the country’s image with reports saying Christians in Sudan are being persecuted.

Most SCOC members have roots among the ethnic Nuba in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan’s South Kordofan state, where the government is fighting an insurgency. The Nuba along with other Christians in Sudan face discrimination, as President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to introduce a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and Arabic language.

Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2016 report.

Sudan ranked eighth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most persecution.