Five leaders of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) were arrested and detained on Sunday after they refused to comply with an order to cancel worship services at their church.
According to Morning Star News, police officers ordered the Christians to cancel the service at the SCOC-Harat church in the Hai Al-thawra West area of Omdurman. When the church leaders refused, they were arrested and charged with disturbing the public.
"Col. Nagmadeen Badradeen entered the Sudan Church of Christ church in Thawra, Area 29, Omdurman. He and a team of police interrupted the service, ordered the leaders to end the service and shut the church. They humiliated the pastors and then held them at a police station," a group called the International Solidarity Campaign with Sudanese Christians (ISCSC) said in a statement, as reported by World Watch Monitor.
The group identified the arrested church leaders as Ayouba Telyan and Abdelbagi Tutu, moderator and member, respectively, of the SCOC Council; the leader of the church in Thawra, Ali el Hakim; Ambarator Hamad and Haibil Ibrahim.
The five church leaders were reportedly released at 11 p.m. after they were questioned by the police.
The Sudanese government has been pressuring SCOC leaders for months to hand over the leadership of their church to a state-sanctioned committee.
In early September, the authorities told four members of SCOC's senior leadership team to expect charges to be brought against them after they refused to hand over the Church's office premises to a committee of government officials.
Another SCOC elder was arrested on Sept. 22 from his home in Omdurman and was interrogated by the authorities before he was released. Sources have said that he was arrested for his refusal to turn over his church to a government-appointed leadership.
On Aug. 23, seven church leaders were arrested and jailed for six hours after they refused to comply with a government order to relinquish control of their church to the government's committee.
Prior to the arrests, the SCOC released an open letter in May in protest to the Sudanese government about what the church described as "the systemic violation of Christian religious freedoms."
The letter, which was circulated on social media, detailed the "hard conditions" that the church had faced in recent years, including the confiscation of Church properties, as well as the demolition of churches. It also highlighted the government's failure to allocate land for the construction of new churches and travel restrictions on new church leaders.
Specific departments have been named in the letter for their "abusive procedures" against the Church in Sudan.
"We hold the National Intelligence and Security Services [NISS] responsible for the damages and other consequences [that] can be caused due to their confiscation of documents. We also hold the land authorities of the Ministry of the Planning and Infrastructure Development of the Khartoum state responsible for the attacks against the Church and [for] the financial damages caused," the letter stated.
The SCOC, which represents over 220,000 of Sudan's two million Christians, calls for a general assembly every three years to appoint church leaders. Morning Star News noted that the current leadership is set to expire in March 2018.
Sudan has been designated by the U.S. State Department as a Country of Particular Concern since 1999 due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations.
Christian support organization Open Doors has ranked the nation as fifth on its 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.