FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 6, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom welcomes yesterday’s release from detention of Rev. Yat Michael Ruot and Rev. Peter Yein Reith. Rev. Michael was convicted of inciting hatred and Rev. Reith of breaching public peace and they were released on time served; other, more serious, charges against them were dropped.
“We are very pleased that the two pastors are now out of detention, but they should not have been charged and detained at all, let alone convicted,” said USCIRF Chairman Dr. Robert P. George. “This case is a textbook example of the persecution of Christians in Sudan.”
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 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 and to advocate for their religious freedom rights. The same month, authorities partially destroyed the church and arrested 37 congregants. Rev. Reith was detained in January 2015.
The pastors were 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 (Article 125). Violations of Article 50 or 51 carry the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Both pastors were held at an undisclosed location and were not granted access to lawyers and family until March 1. In June, the pastors were moved to the high-security Kober Prison and were denied visits by their attorneys and wives.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-786-0613.