State Department official calls on Sudan to stop church demolitions

(Wikimedia Commons/Bertramz)Coptic church and bell towers in Kosti, Sudan.

A senior U.S. State Department official has called on the Sudanese government to "immediately suspend" its confiscation and demolition of churches and recommended that government officials hold roundtable talks with Christian leaders to settle disputes.

During a speech at the Al-Neelain Mosque in Omdurman on Friday, Deputy Secretary John J. Sullivan said that said that future relations between the U.S. and Sudan would depend on how the north African country promotes freedom of expression and other human rights.

"The government of Sudan, including the federal states, should also immediately suspend demolition of places of worships, including mosques and churches," he said, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).

World Watch Monitor reported that Sullivan cited the U.S. State Department's recent International Religious Freedom report highlighting instances of the "arrest, detention, and intimidation of religious leaders, and the denial of permits for the construction of new churches; restrictions on non-Muslim religious groups from entering the country; and the censorship of religious material."

Sullivan's remarks came a month after the U.S. formally lifted economic sanctions on Sudan, a move that was criticized by many due to the north African nation's record of human rights violations.

Rights groups have contended that Washington should take the issue of human rights, including religious freedom, into consideration when creating a policy on Sudan.

Sudanese officials maintained that Khartoum already promotes human rights in the country and said that the reason for the demolition of churches could be the disputes regarding property registrations.

The government had designated 25 churches from different Christian denominations for demolition in June, claiming that they violated designated purposes their respective plots of land.

Several church leaders have also faced pressure from the government to hand over control of their churches.

Last month, five leaders of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) were arrested for refusing to turn over leadership of their church from an elected committee to a state-sanctioned committee.

Four leaders of the denomination were warned in September that charges will be brought against them for their refusal to hand over the Church's office premises to a committee of government officials.

Sullivan said that the U.S. government will be observing how Sudan promotes human rights. "As we move forward in our relationship, the United States will not ignore violations of human rights, including the right to religious freedom," he said.

"Supporting human rights, including religious freedom, has been and will continue to be a critical part of United States bilateral engagement with Sudan," he added.

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