Fears are growing for the welfare of two South Sudanese church leaders who are being held in unknown locations by Sudan’s intelligence services.
Pastor Yat Michael and Pastor Peter Yen (identified as David Yein Reith in some reports) have both now been held for over a month after being arrested during visits to the country from their homes in South Sudan. The two pastors are members of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.
Both pastors were arrested during visits to Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. While South Sudan has a largely Christian population, Sudan is predominantly Muslim. However, many thousands of displaced Southern Sudanese who fled to the north during the long civil war are now so rooted there that they choose to remain. There are still churches in the north to meet their needs, although some have come under pressure in recent months.
“The longer these two men are held in a secret location, the greater the risk of them being tortured,” said Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen.
“To date, absolutely no charge has been brought against these two church leaders. The authorities in Sudan must reveal the location of these two men as soon as possible, and either charge them with a recognizable criminal offence or release them immediately,” she added.
Under Sudanese law, agents from Sudan’s National Intelligence Service cannot be prosecuted for what they do to a prisoner, so long as their actions are committed in the “course of their duty,” according to Amnesty International.
Michael was taken into custody on Sunday, December 21st after preaching the morning sermon in a church in Khartoum. After the service, several men who identified themselves as Sudanese government security officers demanded that Michael go with them, and they took him away without further explanation. The following day, security forces went to Michael’s temporary home and took some of his clothes and personal belongings. They informed his wife that he was being held in relation to an ongoing investigation, but did not reveal any further details concerning whether he had been arrested or any possible charges against him.
The pastor and his wife had traveled to Khartoum seeking medical attention for their child, but a local church had asked Michael to preach during their visit, sources told World Watch Monitor.
The second pastor, Yen, was arrested on January 11th after delivering a letter to the Religious Affairs Office in Khartoum asking about his colleague Michael’s arrest in December. Michael’s wife had been trying unsuccessfully to discover where he was being held. Yen’s family has had no contact with him since he was taken into custody.
Earlier on the day of Yen’s arrest, the pastor had received a threatening phone call saying his wife and one-year-old son would be arrested if he did not return home, sources added.
Sudan ranks sixth on the 2015 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution. Almost two million Christians face strict laws imposed by an Islamic government, which has ruled that apostasy is still legally punishable by death. Sudanese identified as non-Arab are most vulnerable to punishment under the apostasy law.
The government applies other restrictions that target Christians. The government severely inhibits support for the local church from Christians visiting from overseas by refusing work and travel visas to missionaries. The number of expatriate Christians—including those from South Sudan—has decreased significantly since 2013 when they were ordered to leave the country.
Despite the restrictions, the church in Sudan continues to grow according to World Watch List research. The Episcopalian Church, the Church of Christ in Sudan, and the Presbyterian movement to which the two missing pastors belong have all seen significant numbers turning to Christ in recent years.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, we pray for Your church in Sudan; that the light of the gospel will overpower the encroaching spiritual darkness. We pray for pastors Michael and Yen, wherever they are being held. We pray for true justice to rule over their lawless capture of these men. We pray for their protection and we pray that You will preserve and even strengthen their faith during this time. We pray that the light and power of Your gospel will shine through them to their captors. We pray for their families as they live in this time of uncertainty; that You will overcome their fear with Your peace and an awareness of Your incomprehensible love for them. We pray that You will use this time of trouble in Your church in Sudan to show Your power at work in her and cause her to grow and flourish. In the name of Jesus, who is present with us in the day of trouble, Amen.