Police in Sudan have arrested two church leaders from the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) in Gezira State a week after local extremists demanded that the church should be shut down in February.
According to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the church building belonged to the Catholic Church but many Christian denominations have used it for worship and community activities. Muslims have also used it for social events and a nursery.
However, since 2019 local Wahhabi extremists have consistently harassed the church members using the building.
CSW said: "Incidents include the positioning of sound systems outside the building to criticise the church and the filing of complaints against church leaders, accusing them of disturbing the peace and disturbing people of other faiths in the area. The church has been accused of giving food to children to entice them to Christianity, amid claims that the building does not belong to Christians."
The bullying started to intensify on 21st February when church members found an order posted on the building banning all activities including praying. It warned that anyone violating the order or entering the building would face legal action. The order was signed by the Neighbourhood Youth Association, but local sources have told CSW that it was actually written by extremists, as the neighbourhood committee have been living in peace with Christians and don't side with the extremists.
On 27th February, church members found a padlock on the building, but they entered and began a short prayer service anyway. According to CSW, police interrupted the service but allowed them to finish their prayers, and then arrested the two church leaders. After being questioned for several hours, the men were released without charge. The church's efforts to have a local government executive to advocate for them have been unsuccessful.
CSW's founder president Mervyn Thomas said: "CSW is very concerned by the attempts to prevent local Christians from accessing a place of worship, which is a resource for both religious communities. We call on the authorities to address the situation before it escalates further. We also note with concern the detention and interrogation of the church leaders by the police.
"Intentionally or not, the actions of the police appear to substantiate the claims of extremists that legal action can be taken against those who do not comply with their orders. There are unmistakeable parallels between this case and the kind of harassment experienced by religious leaders in the latter years of the al Bashir regime, and we call on the international community to recognise this and to be proactive in raising these concerns with the de facto military leaders, urging them once again to swiftly return power to a civilian-led administration."