Khartoum, Sudan, Jan 8, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Charges have been dropped against one Christian pastor in Sudan, but another pastor could face execution for what his defenders say are trumped-up charges based on animosity toward their religion.
In November 2015, Kuwa Shamal and Hassan Abduraheem attended a Christian conference where Abduraheem was a speaker, according to the American Center for Law and Justice, which is supporting the pastors.
During his speech, Abduraheem showed a picture of a young man who was beaten badly for attending a demonstration. The pastor said he was helping pay for his medical treatment.
In December 2015, the two pastors were arrested by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services, which claimed their financial aid constituted support for rebel forces in the country's South Kordofan region, part of which is contested with South Sudan.
The American Center for Law and Justice alleged that the charges were “trumped-up” and said the two were on trial for their Christian faith.
A judge dropped all charges against Shamal Jan. 2 and released him to his family.
Abduraheem and two other men standing trial continue to face many charges, including espionage and agitating hatred between classes. They could be sentenced to death if convicted. Their fellow defendants are Petr Jasek, a Christian aid worker from the Czech Republic, and Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla, a graduate student and activist from Darfur.
Shamal and Abduraheem's case was noted on Twitter in August 2016 by David Saperstein, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
The American Center for Law and Justice welcomed the end of charges against Shamal, while continguing to call for prayer and advocacy for Abduraheem.
At least 90 percent of Sudan's population is Muslim, and sharia is the source of the nation's legislation. Apostasy from Islam is punishable by the death penalty.
Since 1999, the U.S. state department has listed Sudan as a country of particular concern due to religious freedom violations.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the U.S. government, has said in a recent report that Sudan’s government “continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.” The report noted that the country’s “restrictive interpretation” of sharia is imposed on both Muslims and non-Muslims.
International Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need noted in its 2016 Religious Freedom Report that Sudan's constitution was amended to “widen and increase” the power of the National Intelligence and Security Services, which has impacted “human resources issues and the prosecution of individuals, media outlets and organisations for alleged breaches of the law.”
Open Doors' 2016 World Watch List ranked Sudan eighth in a list of 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted.
Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for alleged apostasy from Islam, was evacuated from her Sudanese homeland in July 2014. She was allowed to leave Sudan only after several months of imprisonment, and intense international pressure was brought to bear on her situation.
Sudan scored a 12 out of 100 in Transparency International's 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking ahead of only Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia.