Sudan detains elder in an apparent attempt to force him to relinquish church leadership

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

Sudanese authorities have reportedly detained a church elder on Friday in an apparent attempt to force him to turn over leadership of his church to a government-appointed committee.

According to Morning Star News, Elder Mahjoub Abotrin of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) was arrested from his home in Omdurman, across the Nile River from Khartoum and interrogated by the police. The elder was eventually freed, but it was unclear whether he was charged with any offense.

Some sources have said that Abotrin was arrested because he refused to turn over SCOC leadership to a government-appointed committee.

Rev. Kwa Shamaal, who serves as the SCOC head of missions, confirmed Abotrin's arrest to Morning Star News. "We cannot allow them [government-appointed committee members] to take over the church," he said.

The terms of the current SCOC leaders are set to expire in March 2018. A general assembly is held every three years to appoint new leaders, in accordance with the SCOC constitution.

Abotrin's arrest comes a month after seven church leaders were detained and interrogated for refusing to comply with a government order to hand over church leadership to the government's committee. The leaders were later released on bail after being jailed for six hours.

Police said that they were implementing orders from the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments to impose replace SCOC leadership with its committee, presumably to sell off the church property.

"Police asked if we still maintain our stance on our refusal to acknowledge the committee appointed by the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments, and we said yes, because it is not the work of the [government] ministry to appoint committees for the church," said Shamaal, who was among the leaders arrested last month.

Six other SCOC members reportedly went in hiding after learning that the police are also pursuing them.

The crackdown on Christians in Sudan has intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011. In April 2013, The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced that it will no longer grant licenses for building new churches in the country, citing the decrease in the South Sudanese population.

Earlier this year, the government designated 25 church buildings for demolition. On May 7, an SCOC church, which began as a refugee camp for south Sudanese people, in the Khartoum suburb of Soba al Aradi was demolished by state authorities.

The government has contended that the churches were built on lands that were zoned for residential or other uses, but church leaders have asserted that it is part of a wider crackdown on Christianity.

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