Court orders security services to return confiscated land to Baptist Church

CSW welcomes a ruling by Sudan’s Court of Appeal for land belonging to the Baptist Church, which has been confiscated by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), to be returned.

In 2012, NISS seized the land in Khartoum Bahri, preventing the Baptist Church from using it for any purpose. The decision by NISS was part of a wave of repression against Christians between 2011 and 2013 that included the forced deportation of foreign Christians and the closure of church-run schools and training centres.

On 9 September, three Court of Appeal Judges ruled that the decision made by NISS in 2012 was invalid, and the land must be returned to the Baptist Church. The written judgement was not communicated to the Church until October.

The case was initially submitted to the administrative court in 2017 in a bid to overturn the decision by NISS to seize the land on the basis that the agency had no right in law to make such an order. The court ruled in favour of the Baptist Church; however NISS appealed to the Court of Appeal, which has now ordered it to return the land to the Church.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We welcome the decision by the Court of Appeal to return the land to its rightful owner. Failure to comply with the Court of Appeal’s ruling would be a worrying indicator of a continuing disregard by the NISS for the right to freedom of religion or belief during this transitional era.  We urge NISS to abide by the recent decision and to cease all and any further interference in the affairs of the Baptist Church and other religious minorities in Sudan.”

The decision comes one month after the appointment of Sudan’s new transitional government led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who promised to implement wide ranging reforms in the country. In a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council on 25 September, Sudan’s new Minister of Justice, Mr Nasredeen Abdulbari, stated that the extensive powers granted to NISS under former President al Bashir had been limited. The new Minister of Guidance and Religious Endowments, Nasr-Eddin Mofarah, has also made statements which affirm Sudan’s religious diversity.

Despite some positive developments with regard to the rights of minority faith communities, criminal charges were recently confirmed against the leadership of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) in a long-running case involving judicial harassment of the denomination by the authorities.

Mr Thomas continued: “We remain concerned by the situation of freedom of religion or belief in Sudan, as demonstrated by the case against the SCOC. Thus, while the court’s order for the Baptist Church’s land to be returned is a welcome development, there are numerous cases of confiscation of church properties that are yet to be addressed. Further efforts in this regard must be encouraged.”