A VERDICT in the case of two South Sudanese pastors charged in Sudan with espionage and blasphemy (News, 29 May) is expected next month.
The Revd Michael Yat, of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, was arrested just before Christmas after preaching a sermon at a church in Khartoum North, in which he reportedly condemned the treatment of Christians in Sudan.
The second pastor, the Revd Peter Yen Reith, was arrested in January, after asking the Sudanese Religious Affairs Office about Pastor Yat’s case.
Both men have been charged with joint criminal acts, undermining the constitutional system, waging war against the state, espionage, unlawfully obtaining or disclosing official documents, agitating hatred, disturbing the peace, and blasphemy.
At their trial in Khartoum on Tuesday, the former presidential candidate Abdul Aziz Khalid told the court that the security and espionage charges against the pastors were without basis, because the information concerned was “available to civilians, and not classified”, the agency Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported.
CSW said that the two men were again denied access to lawyers —something that was condemned during a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week.
MEPs said that the men’s lawyer, Mohamed Mustafa, was arrested earlier this month for complaining about the destruction of part of the Evangelical church in Khartoum North by Sudanese officials.
The European Parliament called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the men, and said that Sudan should “repeal the apostasy laws and stop closing churches and other religious sites”.
“Any type of religious discrimination, especially against Christians, grates very heavily with us,” the Fine Gael MEP for Ireland South, Seán Kelly, said. “We must do everything we can to get these two eminent and wonderful pastors freed.”
The UKIP MEP for North East England, Jonathan Arnott, said: “The death penalty for practising Christians anywhere in the world is completely unacceptable.”
An EU Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, told MEPs that the EU had sent observers to the hearings. “We believe that this sends astrong political signal of the importance we attach to the process, and most importantly to the freedom of religion, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, and to the right of a fair trial.”