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UK-based Human Rights Body Demands Sudan’s Transparency in Legalizing Places of Worship

Flag of Sudan. Credit: Shutterstock

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a UK-based human rights organization, which specializes in religious freedom all over the world, is calling for transparency in the legal procedures involved in the construction of places of worship in Sudan. 

The Founder President of CSW, Mervyn Thomas, acknowledges the reversal of a previous decision to deny the Orthodox Church in Sudan to build a place of worship on its own land, but goes ahead to demand clarity in legal processes involving legalization of places of worship in the Northeast African country.

“CSW welcomes the reversal of the legally questionable and discriminatory decision to deny the Orthodox Church the right to build on its own land. However, we remain concerned by the lack of a clear process for the registration and construction of churches,” Mr. Mervyn says in a Thursday, July 22 report.

In an earlier report, the organization had reported that the Orthodox Church in Sudan had been refused permission to build a place for worship on land it owns in Hay-Elrawda, Omdurman in Sudan’s capital Khartoum.

According to CSW, the decision to refuse permission was made by Sudan’s Urban Planning Department, which allegedly claimed that the land was only authorized for residential purposes.

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CSW reports that a representative of the Urban Planning Department, Hassan Isa, informed the Orthodox Church that in order “for the church to be able to use their land as a place of worship they must change their registration from residential to commercial use and must seek the permission of all neighboring properties. If two neighbors object to the plans, they are unable to proceed.”

Sources in Sudan however told the human rights organization that almost all places of worship, including mosques, are issued with residential registration certificates.

“The key difference is that mosques have been registered and used as places of worship for decades, while churches have faced obstacles in registering places of worship,” CSW said, and added, “While Muslims are often permitted to use parts of their own homes as mosques, Christians are denied the right to do the same.”

The CSW’s Founder President found it “discriminatory” to continually designate property belonging to mosques and churches as residential, and subsequently penalizing churches that want to use their property for a place of worship.

“It is a lingering injustice from the al Bashir (Sudan’s former head of state) era that must be addressed urgently, as it may affect hundreds of churches across Sudan adversely,” he said.

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In the July 22 update, CSW reported that permission to the Orthodox Church in Sudan to build a church was granted on July 16after the Governor of Khartoum State, Ayman Khalid Nimir, was asked to review the case by the government.

The Governor also dismissed Nagi Abdalla, the executive director of Khartoum Bahri locality, who is allegedly responsible for violations against the Sudanese Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC), which took place under the regime of al Bashir.

CSW reports that during his rule, Mr. Abdalla signed numerous contracts with illegitimate committees, which resulted in the destruction of properties belonging to the church.

The Founder President of CSW, Mr. Mervyn welcomed the dismissal of Nagi Abdalla, and further called for “an urgent '' review of the contracts he signed, which led to the destruction of church properties in Khartoum.

The CSW official, however, expressed concerns over what he referred to as “ad hoc” handling of cases involving church properties in South Sudan.

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“While we welcome the positive steps taken in this case, we remain concerned by the way the Sudanese government appears to resolve these cases on an ad-hoc basis,” Mr. Mervyn said.

He added, “This decision-making process was adopted by the previous regime and it fundamentally undermines rule of law and good governance.”

“We call for the formulation and implementation of clear and transparent processes for the construction and registration of places of worship, in order to ensure that all religious groups are treated equally,” the official of the UK-based human rights entity said.