After a full day of trial on Wednesday, July 1, a Sudanese judge found enough evidence to uphold charges against South Sudanese pastors, Yat Michael and Peter Yen, accused of seven crimes, two of which carry the death penalty.
The ruling is not a conviction, but means the defense must present evidence of the men’s innocence. The defense will have that opportunity on July 14. This leaves their lawyer, Muhaned Mustafa, with less than two weeks to prepare their case. And as things currently stand, he will have only 10 to 15 minutes prior to this hearing to prepare his clients.
At the end of those proceedings, the court will have the final opportunity to review all the evidence presented and drop the charges or convict the pastors.
During last Wednesday’s hearing the judge questioned both men about documents found on their computer after their arrests, which included internal church reports, maps that show the population and topography of Khartoum, Christian literature, and a study guide on the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
“All of these materials, with the exception of the internal church report and the study guide on NISS, are publicly accessible materials,” explains the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ).
The pastors acknowledged having the internal church report, though both said they had never seen the study guide on NISS until it was presented in court. They had no knowledge of how it got on the computer.
Besides these documents, the only evidence brought by the prosecution against the Christian pastors was a sermon Pastor Michael gave on the Christian doctrines of their denomination.
At the conclusion of the court hearing, the attorney requested access with his clients, but the judge only had authority to grant him visitation at the court.
“Sudanese law grants sole discretion for visitation rights at the prison to the prison directorate, who in this case has previously denied requests for access,” explained the ACLJ.
Denying the pastors access to their lawyer to prepare their case is a violation of rights guaranteed both under Sudanese law and international law. The attorney will appeal the matter to the prison authorities.
“The judge in this case is walking a tight rope,” commented an Open Doors spokesman. “He is under pressure to balance local expectations on him to uphold the principles of the Sharia-governed state with adherence to international human rights standards. Christians around the world must pray and advocate fervently for justice to be done for the pastors in accordance with international human rights standards.”
Meanwhile the judge offered the attorney 10 or 15 minutes at the court to prepare his defense. The attorney protested that such time is not adequate to prepare a defense, let alone a defense for charges that carry the death penalty, but to no avail.
Yat Michael was taken into custody on Dec. 21, 2014 after preaching that morning at a church in Khartoum. Peter Yen was arrested on Jan. 11, 2015 after he delivered a letter to the Religious Affairs Office in Khartoum asking about his colleague Michael’s arrest in December.
Sudan is ranked #6 on the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List (www.worldwatchlist.us) of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians. Islam is well rooted in the Sudanese society. The overwhelming majority of the population in Sudan is Sunni Muslim, and Sharia law is the foundation of Sudan’s legal system. The regime is authoritarian and wants to control all aspects of the lives of its citizens. Blasphemy laws are used country-wide to persecute and prosecute Christians. Apostasy .is criminalized, punishable by the death penalty.
Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Christy Lynn Wilson at 770-401-9842.