By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
KHARTOUM, SUDAN (BosNewsLife)– Two South Sudanese pastors who could face the death penalty for what friends say are trumped-up charges have been moved to a high security prison, Christian supporters told BosNewsLife.
Yat Michael and Peter Reith, were moved to Kober Prison in North Khartoum last week, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), an advocacy group closely following the case.
The pastors had been detained at Omdurman Men’s Prison, a low security facility, since March 1. Christians said the were last seen on June 3 by their families and pastors from their church, who regularly visited them.
Concerns were raised the next day when families were reportedly refused access.
On June 6, prison authorities confirmed the pastors had been transferred to Kober Prison in North Khartoum, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
So far neither their wives nor lawyers have been allowed to visit them, CSW said.
Officials have declined to give a reason for the move, but Christians say it may have been triggered by actions of foreign visitors.
The pastor’s lawyers have been denied access to their clients in the Kober Prison, apparently as the “National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) may have issued an order to the prison authorities preventing the pastors from having visitors,” suggested CSW.
The pastors from the South Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SSEPC) are jointly facing charges for six serious crimes, including undermining the constitutional system and waging war against the state, both of which carry the death penalty or life imprisonment, BosNewsLife learned.
The next hearing is scheduled for June 15 as part of what is seen by activists as a wider crackdown on churches and Christians in the mainly Islamic nation.
“We are concerned by this development in the clergymen’s case. They already endured extended detention without access to their families at the beginning of this year and they and their families should be spared further emotional distress,” said CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
Both men spent an extended period of time in detention. Michael was detained on December 14, 2014,
while Peter Reith was arrested on January 11 this year, Christians said.
“The refusal of access to their legal representatives is in violation of article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sudan is party, and which guarantees the right of those charged with a crime to communicate with counsel of their own choosing,” complained Thomas.
“ We urge the Sudanese authorities to ensure that the clergymen’s detention is regularised, and they are permitted regular family visits and unhindered access to their lawyers. The decision to detain them at a higher security prison should be reconsidered, given that they have not been found guilty of any crime.”