With possibility of secession by Southern Sudan, church leaders in north fear more land grabs.
NAIROBI, Kenya, October 25 (CDN) — Police in Sudan evicted the staff of a Presbyterian church from its events and office site in Khartoum earlier this month, aiding a Muslim businessman’s effort to seize the property.
Christians in Sudan’s capital city told Compass that police entered the compound of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) on Oct. 4 at around 2 p.m. and ordered workers to leave, claiming that the land belonged to Muslim businessman Osman al Tayeb. When asked to show evidence of Al Tayeb’s ownership, however, officers failed to produce any documentation, the sources said.
The church had signed a contract with al Tayeb stipulating the terms under which he could attain the property – including providing legal documents such as a construction permit and then obtaining final approval from SPEC – but those terms remained unmet, church officials said.
Church leader Deng Bol said that under terms of the unfulfilled contract, the SPEC would turn the property over to al Tayeb to construct a business center on the site, with the denomination to receive a share of the returns from the commercial enterprise and regain ownership of the plot after 80 years.
“But the investor failed to produce a single document from the concerned authorities” and therefore resorted to police action to secure the property, Bol said.
SPEC leaders had yet to approve the project because of the high risk of permanently losing the property, he said.
“The SPEC feared that they were going to lose the property after 80 years if they accepted the proposed contract,” Bol said.
SPEC leaders have undertaken legal action to recover the property, he said. The disputed plot of 2,232 square meters is located in a busy part of the heart of Khartoum, where it has been used for Christian rallies and related activities.
“The plot is registered in the name of the church and should not be sold or transfered for any other activities, only for church-related programs,” a church elder who requested anonymity said.
The Rev. Philip Akway, general secretary of the SPEC, told Compass that the government might be annoyed that Christian activities have taken place there for many decades.
“Muslim groups are not happy with the church in north Sudan, therefore they try to cause tension in the church,” Akway told Compass.
The policeman leading the officers in the eviction on Oct. 4 verbally threatened to shoot anyone who interfered, Christian sources said.
“We have orders from higher authorities,” the policeman shouted at the growing throng of irate Christians.
A Christian association called Living Water had planned an exhibit at the SPEC compound on Oct. 6, but an organization leader arrived to find the place fenced off and deserted except for four policemen at the gate, sources said.
SPEC leaders said Muslims have taken over many other Christian properties through similar ploys.
“We see this as a direct plot against their churches’ estates in Sudan,” Akway said.
The Rev. John Tau, vice-moderator for SPEC, said the site where Al Tayeb plans to erect three towers was not targeted accidentally.
“The Muslim businessman seems to be targeting strategic places of the church in order to stop the church from reaching Muslims in the North Sudan,” Tau said.
The unnamed elder said church leaders believe the property grab came in anticipation of the proposed north-south division of Sudan. With less than three months until a Jan. 9 referendum on splitting the country according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, SPEC leaders have taken a number of measures to guard against what it sees as government interference in church affairs.
Many southern Sudanese Christians fear losing citizenship if south Sudan votes for secession in the forthcoming referendum.
A top Sudanese official has said people in south Sudan will no longer be citizens of the north if their region votes for independence. Information Minister Kamal Obeid told state media last month that south Sudanese will be considered citizens of another state if they choose independence, which led many northern-based southern Sudanese to begin packing.
At the same time, President Omar al-Bashir promised full protection for southern Sudanese and their properties in a recent address. His speech was reinforced by Vice President Ali Osman Taha’s address during a political conference in Juba regarding the signing of a security agreement with First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit (also president of the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan), but Obeid’s words have not been forgotten.
Akway of SPEC said it is difficult to know what will become of the property.
“Police continue to guard the compound, and nobody knows for sure what the coming days will bring,” Akway said. “With just less than three months left for the South to decide its fate, we are forced to see this move as a serious development against the church in Sudan.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Constitutional freedom of religion overcomes objections from annoyed Muslims.
NAIROBI, Kenya, August 13 (CDN) — A Tanzanian court yesterday acquitted two evangelists of “illegal preaching.”
After 10 months of hearings, a Kariakoo area court in Dar es Salaam closed the case against Anglican Christians Eleutery Kobelo and Cecil Simbaulanga, who were arrested in October 2009 after Muslims invited them to participate in a religious debate at which the opponents did not appear, but authorities did.
The two evangelists maintained that no Muslims showed up to the neutral site of the supposed inter-faith debate until Islamists arrived with government security agents who charged them with “using religious sermons to incite Muslims and Christians into viewing each other with suspicion.”
The accusers had claimed that the Christians’ message that Jesus is God had annoyed Muslims and therefore disrupted a peaceful coexistence between those of the two faiths.
Kobelo told Compass by telephone that the Muslims failed to show up in court to support their allegation of illegal preaching. After the verdict, Christians shouting for joy greeted the evangelists as they left the courtroom, he said.
“We are grateful that that the court has done justice and made its ruling based on Tanzania’s constitution that allows for freedom of religion and assembly,” Kobelo said. “We thank the Christians worldwide for praying for us and Compass for highlighting our plight.”
Simbaulanga said the message of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection cannot be stopped.
“The court decision will make us preach the gospel more vigorously, and many Muslims will turn to Christ,” he told Compass. “Muslims tried to stop the movement, but nobody can stop the gospel.”
Kobelo and Simbaulanga were in jail for seven days before they were released on bail on Oct. 27.
Simbaulanga was imprisoned for 62 days between December 2006 and February 2007 in Kigoma, he said. Denied bail, he was accused of trying to convert Muslims to Christ and “abusing Islam” by saying Muhammad had married a young girl. Several cases are pending against him in different courts, he said, and Muslims are constantly searching for him.
An estimated 62 percent of Tanzania’s population is Christian and 35 percent is Muslim, mostly Sunni; other religious groups make up the other 3 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Police in the Tanzanian capital of Dodoma stopped two Christian evangelists from reading excerpts from the Quran in an outdoor event on March 18, 2009, according to the state department’s 2009 International Religious Freedom Report. Officers temporarily detained them and released them with a warning not to read the Quran during sermons to avoid antagonizing the Muslim community.
Report from Compass Direct News
Violence erupts on mere suspicion of a prayer meeting.
ISTANBUL, June 25 (Compass Direct News) – Nearly 1,000 Coptic Christians in Egypt are hiding in their homes after clashes erupted Sunday (June 21) between them and their village’s majority-Muslim population over the use of a three-story building belonging to the Coptic Church.
When on Sunday at 11 a.m. a group of 25 Christians from Cairo stopped in Ezbet Boshra-East, a village of about 3,000 people three hours south of Cairo by car, few villagers failed to take notice. Planning to visit local Christians and the Rev. Isaac Castor, the group had gathered outside the building owned by the Coptic Church, where the priest lives with his family.
Castor said only six of them had entered the building when Muslim neighbors approached the rest of the group waiting outside and began taunting them. A Muslim woman walked up to one of the visiting women, he said, and slapped her.
Soon village youths gathered and started throwing stones at the visitors and the building, and according to Castor within minutes hundreds of villagers, Muslims against Christians, were fighting each other in the streets of Ezbet Boshra-East. Castor’s car was also vandalized.
“They were all over the streets hitting each other with sticks and their fists,” Castor told Compass from his home by phone. “Some people were on top of buildings throwing stones; it was like a civil war.”
Sectarian tensions have previously flared in the village. Last July, when Castor first moved to Ezbet Boshra-East with his family, Muslims vandalized Christians’ farmlands and poisoned their domestic animals after services took place at the building owned by the church, according to International Christian Concern.
Since last July’s incidents, authorities have stipulated that only two Christians at a time can visit the building, and according to Castor this was the source of the fighting that erupted in front of the building on Sunday. The neighbors thought he was conducting a prayer meeting and not adhering to the rule set by local authorities.
In the violent clash in front of the church-owned building, 17 Christians and eight Muslims were estimated to have been injured. According to various reports, nearly 19 Coptic Christians were arrested and released the following day, along with the injured Muslims.
So far there is no concrete information on how the Christians were treated while in prison. During the arrests of the Christians, police vandalized many of their homes. Egyptian sources told Compass that police often turn the homes of those whom they arrest “upside down.”
Soon after the clashes, electricity and phone services were cut. Electricity was restored after 24 hours, but at press time telephones were still not operating. All communications happen via mobile phones.
Authorities also imposed a 6 p.m. curfew on the entire village, but Castor said Christians were too afraid to come out of their homes and were living off personal food stockpiles. He also said that a number of families had left the village to stay with friends and relatives in nearby towns and villages. Eyewitnesses visiting Ezbet Boshra-East yesterday confirmed that although there were Muslim villagers outside, there were no Christians walking on the streets.
Procedures vs. Tolerance
There is no church building in Ezbet Boshra-East, and so far the Coptic Church has not sought to obtain permission to build one. Nor has it officially applied for permission to use the three-story building as a place of prayer as an official association.
When a reporter from a major Egyptian TV channel asked Castor by telephone whether he had obtained permission for prayer and worship for the building purchased by the church, he responded, “Do I need to have permission if I was called to pray for a sick person?” He admitted in the interview, however, that obtaining permission would help to avoid clashes and that authorities should grant it quickly.
There are other villages around Ezbet Boshra-East, such as Talt three kilometers away, where there are Coptic associations. Also, official churches are established in Ezbet Boshra-West and El Fashn, both 15 kilometers (nine miles) away.
Castor said poor Muslim-Christian relations are reflected in the lack of an area church.
“There is no love or tolerance for each other, and I think this is wrong,” Castor said. “I’m worried about the future. I’m worried about the freedom of religion and the inability to build churches. There is bias. It is unfair and unacceptable that people don’t have the freedom of worship. If the current policies continue, the hate will continue.”
The village-wide violence on Sunday harkened to sectarian violence in Upper Egypt in 2000 in the area of El Kosheh, said Ibrahim Habib, chairman of U.K.-based United Copts.
“This degree of radicalization is a bad sign for the future of Egypt, when there is so much hate for people who are basically peaceful and just want to pray,” said Habib.
Egypt’s constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship under Article 46.
“What’s the value of a statement like this if it is not put into action?” he said of Article 46, adding that when government agencies do not promote freedom of worship but instead “become agents of persecution, they make a mockery of the constitution.”
Habib also expressed dismay that a whole village took umbrage only because they suspected a prayer meeting.
“How can private worship annoy people?” he said. “They are not broadcasting it. This is not fair. I’m really annoyed. They say Islam is tolerant, but is this tolerant? This is not tolerant at all.”
Other Non-Governmental Organizations in Egypt said that they expect reconciliation meetings to take place in Ezbet Boshra-East in the coming weeks.
Report from Compass Direct News
I have grown increasingly annoyed by ‘A Current Affair,’ the Channel 9 current affairs program here in Australia.
Where have all of the good reporters gone with the good reports (not necessarily good news of course) on what is happening in the world and in this country? Perhaps I should be watching the ABC, which admittedly has some very good news programs and the like. SBS also has some good news programs. But Channel 9, what has happened? Increasingly the channel I used to watch because it had some good news programs has become increasingly ordinary.
In the last week there have been two particularly annoying reports. The first involved a frog and a frog pond that was supposed to be keeping someone awake at night, along with journals recording the happenings of the frog and the pond, etc. The husband of the couple being plagued by such a terrible situation had apparently died since the first report several years ago and the frog and the pond were being blamed for contributing to the death. I couldn’t believe that this was such a massive news story.
Then tonight, Channel 9 is having a go at Channel 7 because two young stars from Home and Away were involved in scandals. Sure, they were truly scandals. The report then went on to list a number of other recent Channel 7 scandals. What was I thinking? ‘Hang on, what about all of the scandals at Channel 9 with various AFL and NRL reporters/commentators?’ There have of course been others too. What hypocrites!!!
A Current Affair is one program well and truly past it used by date – get it off the television and replace it with a quality news program!!!
Me – I’m off to view ‘The 7.30 Report’ on the ABC for starters. I’ll also be looking at several other programs on the ABC and SBS. I want quality news and current affairs programs – not the rubbish being offered up on Channel 9.
As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a life-long opponent of the Church Growth Movement, Church Marketing gimmicks, etc. I have the occasional go at these sorts of things in this Blog from time to time.
Now I ask, ‘why reinvent the wheel when someone has already done it for you?’ I have been a long time nonconformist when it comes to Bibles – that is, the preoccupation that Zondervan and the likes have with making such things as youth Bibles, Slim-line Bibles, Green Bibles, etc, etc. I have become increasingly annoyed at the antics of such companies and how they peddle the Word of God. You would expect this sort of thing from a secular company I suppose and essentially that is what Zondervan is isn’t it? Charismatic-influenced Bible publishers you would expect it from as well I suppose, given that they have such a poor regard for the written Word of God?
But back to the question – why reinvent the wheel? I was over at the Pyromaniacs Blog a minute ago where Phil Johnson has posted some comments on Zondervan and I couldn’t agree with what he wrote more. Go and have a read via the link below. I won’t mind if you go over there and have a look J