Despite Persecution, Christian Population in South Sudan is Growing

“IF SOUTH SUDAN secedes,” Omar al-Bashir told supporters at a rally in 2010, “we will change the constitution”, paying no attention to “diversity of culture”. The Sudanese president revisited the subject two years later. “Our template is clear: a 100% Islamic constitution,” he said in a speech to Muslim leaders in the capital, Khartoum. As for non-Muslims: “Nothing will preserve your rights except for Islamic sharia.”

The south seceded in 2011, taking with it most of Sudan’s Christians. After the split churches in the north were burned. Then came demolitions: at least 20 since 2011. Four took place in August this year. About 27 other churches are listed for bulldozing. The government says it is merely removing unlicensed buildings. But only churches seem to be getting knocked down. In any case, the government announced in 2013 that it would no longer grant licences for the construction of new churches. “Christians have no rights here any longer,” says Reverend Kuwa Shamal of the Sudanese Church of Christ, one of several church leaders who have been arrested on specious charges of spying and undermining the constitution.

Sudan’s treatment of Christians has long been dire. Forced assimilation in the 1980s and 1990s helped spark its decades-long civil war. “Denial of religious freedom” was cited by Bill Clinton, then America’s president, among his reasons for imposing sanctions on Sudan in 1997. A peace agreement with southern rebels in 2005 brought some respite, but “after the independence of South Sudan the government decided there was no space for Christians,” says Muhanad Nur, a human-rights lawyer in Khartoum.

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SOURCE: The Economist