KHARTOUM (Christian Examiner) -- After five months in a secret detention center, the trial of two Sudanese pastors charged with fomenting dissension and inciting hatred among religious sects has begun, the Sudan Tribune has reported.
According to the paper, which publishes from Paris, Yat Michael and Peter Yen, both pastors in the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, were arrested after conducting church services at the Khartoum North Church by officials with Sudan's feared National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).
Michael, who was visiting Sudan, was arrested Dec. 21, 2014. Yen was arrested Jan. 11 after he was summoned to report to the NISS's offices.
This is their habit to pull down the church. We are not surprised. This is the way they deal with the church.
Sources inside the NISS said the two were being held as spies working for "foreign bodies" and collecting information on Sudan's national security infrastructure. Some of the charges are punishable by death, the paper said.
One police investigator told the court Yen's computer contained demographic information on Sudan, including detailed reports about the population, coordinates, literacy rates and electrical coverage – information missionaries commonly have on hand when working in a foreign country.
The Presbyterian Church (USA), which partners with the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, called on its members to pray for the two pastors. According to a statement on the denomination's website, the PC(USA) issued an alert claiming the church was experiencing significant challenges as the result of decades of civil war, ethnic and religious strife.
"These challenges have increased since South Sudan became an independent country in 2011. Christians in Sudan are now a tiny minority of the total population," the PC(USA) statement said.
"Several Catholic and Protestant church buildings in the Khartoum area have been destroyed or confiscated by authorities since South Sudan's independence in 2011. According to the action alert, such attacks on church property represent an effort to intimidate the community and to suppress religious freedom."
Another pastor in South Sudan. Tut Kony, said the imprisonment of the pastors is nothing new. Almost all of them have been jailed, beaten or stoned.
"This is their habit to pull down the church. We are not surprised. This is the way they deal with the church," Kony said.