March 27, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - Salwa Fahmi Suleiman Gireis, a Sudanese Christian woman and NGO worker, has been detained without charges for over month by the Sudanese security services (NSS) following her arrest from her home in Khartoum last month, Amnesty International (AI) said in a statement.
According to Amnesty, the 64-year-old accountant was working for an Evangelical Christian organisation prior to her arrest on the morning of 12 February when four men, who identified themselves as members of the NSS, entered the house and arrested her without providing a reason.
Later the same day, the men returned and confiscated her passport, as well as the house’s electronic equipment, including laptops, a desktop computer, tablets and a router.
“Following Salwa Fahmi Suleiman Gireis’ arrest, plainclothed men visited the family farm and put cupboards containing bibles under seal. They reportedly killed the pigs that were being raised there and stole a motorcycle,” AI said in its statement, adding that the NSS has also summoned a relative of Gireis for questioning.
AI said it feared Gireis may be “detained in conditions amounting to ill-treatment”.
While her family has been allowed to visit her once and bring medicine for her high blood pressure, she has not been charged and has been denied access to a lawyer.
“Amnesty International considers Salwa Fahmi a prisoner of conscience, held solely for her peaceful work with a religious organisation,” the human rights organisation said.
It urged Sudanese authorities to release Gireis immediately and unconditionally and to cease ongoing harassment and intimidation of her family members.
CRACKDOWN ON CHRISTIANS
Since early 2013, Sudanese authorities have stepped up measures to obstruct the activities of Christian organisations in the country.
Following the detention of a recent convert to Christianity and several Coptic Church representatives in December 2012, authorities have reportedly destroyed several churches in and around the Khartoum area.
A number of foreigners accused of proselytising were also deported, while authorities conducted raids on a number of religious institutions, confiscating books to check on their content.
Several church-affiliated institutions such as orphanages or schools were shut down as part of the crackdown, the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, told Reuters in February.
In Islam-dominated Sudan, Christians must keep a low profile and remain at risk of persecution and intimidation.
One Juba-based archbishop told Reuters that Christians in the north are “compromised” and cannot even celebrate Christmas without fear of retribution.
In April 2012, a violent crowd ransacked the compound of a Presbyterian church in Khartoum, burning Bibles and looting the buildings.
In a separate incident last June, bulldozers sent by officials from the ministry of planning and housing destroyed two church buildings belonging to the St John Episcopal Church in Khartoum, claiming worshippers lacked a permit to occupy the land.
These latest developments, says Amnesty, take place in a context local land disputes and agitation by local Islamists against Christians, many of whom originate from what is now South Sudan, or from the conflict-affected areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
According to Reuters, Christians concede that some churches were built without official approval, but say obtaining the required permits is almost impossible.
The situation was further complicated after the South seceded from the north in July 2011,when South Sudanese residing in the north became foreign citizens, requiring them to obtain new building permits for existing churches.
Most southerners have moved south since their country gained independence, but some 350,000 are estimated to remain in Khartoum. Some Christians also live in the Nuba Mountains, a region bordering South Sudan.