Sudan Jails Episcopal Priest Near
Cleric Refuses to Demolish Church Building
by Barbara G. Baker ISTANBUL, May 12 (Compass) -- A Sudanese court jailed an Episcopal priest "indefinitely" last month for refusing to demolish a church he had built himself 11 years ago on the outskirts of Khartoum North. In a verdict announced on April 7, the Rev. Samuel Dobai Amum was ordered to tear down St. Matthew's Parish in Takamol and surrender the land on which it was built to the "rightful owner." "Amum said he couldn't destroy something he has devoted to his Father in the Highest," the newspaper Khartoum Monitor reported on April 29. "If the law sees it just to do so, it can go ahead," Amum reportedly told the court, but he refused to tear down the church himself. Angered, Judge Kamal Abd-Rahaman Alli declared Amum "rude before the law." The judge amended his verdict on the spot, demanding that the priest either destroy the church himself or pay 7,000,000 Sudanese dinars (nearly $3,000) to secure the land in the name of the church. Until one of these two demands was honored, the judge stated, Amum was to be "imprisoned indefinitely." Amum, who is in his mid 40s, has been incarcerated since April 7 in the Soba Prison, about 15 miles southeast of Khartoum along the Blue Nile. "His imprisonment is open," a source in the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) told Compass from Khartoum. "There is no month or day or week or year set. It's an open prison sentence." "The whole case is connected with the issue of the land," the source said. "Most accommodations here are built in a place which has not been allotted by the government, and then the government claims that this piece of land belongs to somebody else." With some four million displaced Sudanese fleeing decades of civil war and famine, unclaimed land on the outskirts of Khartoum has slowly evolved from camps of displaced squatters into registered plots allotted by the government to individual owners. But under Khartoum's Islamic regime, land where a mosque has been established is considered community property. "It would never be allotted to an individual," a Khartoum resident told Compass. "Is [this] not religious discrimination?" a Khartoum Monitor columnist asked. "I am sure that if the church was a mosque, it shouldn't have been touched. Instead, more land could have been added to it." As a displaced southern Sudanese, Amum had built a home in the un-surveyed Takamol-Hag-Yousif area of Khartoum North in 1987. He then erected a simple straw-shelter chapel on the same plot, designating it as a place of worship for other displaced Christians in the area. In 1992, the structure was rebuilt out of mud and straw and consecrated as a full parish under the ECS, with the Rev. Amum as parish priest. Three years later, after the area was surveyed by municipal authorities for private allotments, Amum tried to file documents with the city council for formal recognition of the church. Despite the fact that Amum had occupied and developed the plot of land on which the church was built, he was informed by council authorities that it now belonged to Awad Abdalla Bashir, a Muslim member of the Popular Committee of the local government. Shortly afterwards, Bashir opened a case against the priest, demanding that Amum pay him 10 million dinars ($4,300) for the plot if he wanted the church to remain there. Amum declined the proposal, stating that he had no money, and requested justice from the court. The April 7 verdict against Amum was issued at the ninth hearing held on the case since it opened in 1995. Compass has been unable to confirm reports that a government crackdown last week against the Khartoum Monitor came in direct reaction to its prominent coverage of Amum's arrest on April 29. The newspaper was reportedly closed and its managing director, Niah Bol, held under arrest on May 6 and 7. Since it formed 16 years ago, the congregation of St. Matthew's Parish has averaged from 150 to 200 members, depending on the movements of displaced Christians in the area. Most of the parishioners are from the Jur and Wirah tribes of southern Sudan. Amum and his wife Sudan Guma have two sons, Noah and Ayu, and a daughter, Vivian. During his initial weeks in jail, he has been allowed to meet his family and friends during regular prison visiting hours. "But his wife is upset completely, and his congregation is very worried about him," a fellow clergyman told Compass. During the first month of Amum's imprisonment, the church raised 81,000 dinars toward his release.
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