Sudan: USCIRF Gravely Concerned by Trial of Pastors


June 1, 2015

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemns the continuing prosecution of Rev. Yat Michael and Rev. Peter Reith who face the death penalty if convicted on the baseless charges of undermining Sudan’s constitution and waging war against the state.

The trial of Revs. Michael and Reith is a clear example of the Sudanese government’s persecution of the country’s small Christian community.  They are on trial simply for demanding and urging their congregation to remain strong in the face of restrictions on their constitutional right to religious freedom,” said USCIRF Chair Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett. USCIRF urges the U.S. government and international community to publicly speak out against the trial, demand the pastors’ immediate release, and press the Sudanese government to abide by its constitutional and international commitments to respect religious freedom for all.

Revs. Michael and Reith, both of South Sudanese origin, belong to the Presbyterian Evangelical Church Khartoum Bahri congregation.  The congregation has brought a legal case against Sudanese authorities to stop the illegal sale of church land by Sudanese authorities to a Muslim businessman.  The National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) detained Rev. Michael in December 2014, after recording him urging parishioners at a church service to continue standing firm through the trials they were experiencing.  The same month, authorities partially destroyed the church and arrested 37 congregants.  Rev. Reith was detained in January 2015.  Both pastors were held at an undisclosed location and were not granted access to lawyers and family until March 1.

The pastors have been charged with undermining the constitutional system (Article 50 of the Sudanese Criminal Code); waging war against the state (Article 51); disclosure and receipt of official information or documents (Article 55); arousing feelings of discontent among regular forces (Article 62); breach of public peace (Article 69); and offences relating to insulting religious beliefs (Article125).  Violations of Article 50 or 51 carry the death penalty or life imprisonment.

In 2015, USCIRF again recommended that Sudan be designated as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for its particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  The State Department has designated Sudan as a CPC since 1999, most recently in July 2014. 

For more information, see the Sudan Chapter in USCIRF’s 2015 Annual Report.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0613.