NAIROBI, Kenya Despite a promise by the Sudanese government to grant its minority Christian population religious freedom, church leaders said they are beset by increased restrictions and hostility in the wake of South Sudan’s independence.
In 2011, South Sudan, a mostly Christian region, split from the predominantly Muslim and Arab north, in a process strongly supported by the international community and churches in the West.
The two regions had fought a two-decade-long civil war that ended in 2005, following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The pact granted the South Sudanese a referendum after a six-year interim period and independence six months later. In the referendum, the people of South Sudan chose separation.
While the separation is praised as good for political reasons, several churches in Khartoum, the northern capital, have been destroyed and others closed down along with affiliated schools and orphanages.
Christians in Sudan are facing increased arrests, detention and deportation with church-associated centers being raided and foreign missionaries kicked out, according to the leaders.
“The situation of Christians and the church is very difficult at the moment,” said Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of the Khartoum Archdiocese.
After the secession, President Omar al-Bashir promised a country governed by an Islamic constitution where Islam is the official religion.
On July 7, Bashir declared the constitution would serve as “a role model for all people who have aspirations to apply religion in all aspects of their lives.”
He also promised the participation of religious leaders in writing the laws. Church leaders say that is unlikely. Though the constitution recognizes all religions, in practice the government has not been inclusive. More than 97 percent of Sudan’s 30 million residents are Muslim.
Recently, some government officials, politicians and Muslim leaders have issued statements that indicate the growing intolerance.
More than 300,000 Christians live in Khartoum, according to the leaders, with others living in the conflict-hit Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions.
There, they have been subjected to aerial bombardment by the Sudanese air force, according to humanitarian agencies.
Many fear the government is trying to eliminate Christianity as it adopts Islamic law, said the Rev. James Par Tap, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Sudan.
“Many people are being forced out and their property taken away,” Par Tap said. “Even the churches are being taken away. We have been trying to talk to the government, but it’s not easy.”