Sudanese Judge Finds Sufficient Evidence to "Charge" Christian Pastors – Defense Next in Trial
Unfortunately, the news coming out of Sudan is not what we would have hoped.
After a full day of trial today, in which the judge questioned both Pastor Michael and Pastor Peter, the judge concluded there was sufficient evidence to “charge” both pastors with the offenses alleged against them. Under Sudanese criminal procedure, the charge is not a conviction; rather it comes with a presumption that the defense must now counter by presenting evidence of the men’s innocence. The full set of charges and possible sentences based on Sudan’s criminal code are below.
- Article 12 Right of self-defense;
- Article 25 Abetment - inducement to another to commit an offense;
- Article 50: Undermining the constitutional system (Penalty: death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment and confiscation of property);
- Article 53: Espionage (Penalty: death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment and confiscation of property);
- Article 64: Promoting hatred amongst or against sects (Penalty: 2 years imprisonment);
- Article 69: Disturbance of the public peace (Penalty: 6 months imprisonment; or fine or no more than 20 lashes);
- Article 125: Blasphemy/insulting religious creeds (Penalty: 1 year imprisonment; or a fine or no more than 40 lashes).
During the trial, the judge questioned both men about documents found on their computer after their arrests. This evidence includes internal church reports, maps that show the population and topography of Khartoum, Christian literature, and a study guide on the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). All of these materials, with the exception of the internal church report and the study guide on NISS are publicly accessible materials.
The pastors acknowledged having the internal church report, though both reported to the judge that they had never seen the study guide on NISS before it was presented in court and had no knowledge of how it got on the computer. Besides these documents, the only evidence brought by the prosecution against the Christian pastors was a sermon Pastor Michael gave, a sermon that was supported by Christian doctrine shared by their common denomination.
Serious charges, like those brought here, require serious evidence. Yet, the court has found the evidence sufficient and called for the defense to put on its case on July 14th. After the defense is presented, the Court will have a final opportunity to review all the evidence presented and drop the charges or convict the Pastors.
At the conclusion of today’s court hearing, the attorney requested access with his clients—a right that is guaranteed both under Sudanese law and international law—but the judge only had authority to grant him visitation at the court.
While the judge offered the attorney 10 or 15 minutes at the court to prepare his defense, the attorney protested that such time is not adequate to prepare a defense, let alone a defense for charge that carry the death penalty.
Sudanese law grants sole discretion for visitation rights at the prison to the prison directorate, who in this case has previously denied requests for access. The attorney will appeal the matter this Sunday to the prison authorities and press that denying access to his clients for preparation of their defense violates Sudan’s constitution.
We will continue to provide updates on this critical case for the lives of these two Christian pastors at it continues. We are working with Mariam Ibraheem (a Christian mom who we helped free from death row in Sudan last year) and our contacts on the ground in Sudan to fight for the freedom and exoneration of Pastors Michael and Peter. We are also directly urging the Sudanese government to provide critical access to the pastors’ attorney (who himself was recently wrongfully arrested) as the trial continues.
As Mariam has said, “Being Christian is not a crime.” Yet for these two Pastors, they could be sentenced to death for expressing their Christian faith. We cannot be silent.
As we continue fighting for their freedom, please pray for Pastor Michael, Pastor Peter, and their families, and join nearly 200,000 in signing our petition for their freedom (below and) at BeHeardProject.com.
7.6.2015 UPDATE: The formal document from the court charging Pastors Michael and Peter unexpectedly changed the listed charges. Articles 12 and 25 were added, and it appears Articles 21 and 55 have been dropped. This post has been updated accordingly.