Release International calls on Sudan to free Christian aid worker accused of spying. Charge ‘demonstrates growing hostility towards Church in Sudan’.
A Czech Christian aid worker has been sentenced to life in prison for spying, which in Sudan’s system means at least 20 years behind bars. His real ‘crime’ was to help a student who had been badly injured at a demonstration.
Petr Jašek, who is in his mid-50s, was sentenced yesterday (Sunday) in Khartoum.
Two co-defendants were also sentenced to a total of 12 years each for helping Petr Jašek. They were Sudanese nationals Rev Hassan Abduraheem and Abdulmonem Abdumawla.
‘Release International is shocked by yesterday’s ruling,’ says Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson. ‘Sentencing aid workers for spying highlights the growing hostility in Sudan towards Christians and the church – as does the severity of the sentence.
‘The government is already demolishing churches. Release calls on Sudan to respect the rights of Christians and others and to release these men, whose only crime was compassion.’
Petr Jašek and the others were accused of funding rebel movements in areas such as South Kordofan and Darfur. The charges arose after an act of compassion towards a student from Darfur who was badly burnt during a protest in 2013.
The student’s plight was highlighted at an international conference in 2015. In December that year, Petr travelled to Khartoum to give the student $5,000 towards his medical costs. Security agents searching his bags at Khartoum Airport found the receipt for his donation and detained Petr on the spot, accusing him of supporting rebels.
Petr Jašek has a 20-year background in the medical field, including 10 years as a hospital administrator. He has worked to provide care to persecuted Christians in Sudan and Nigeria, including medical care for Christians attacked by Boko Haram.
His medical experience uniquely qualified him to serve suffering people in places like Sudan.
The court in Khartoum watched a video found on Petr’s laptop, which showed a foreigner talking with civilians from the Nuba mountains area. Two of the men on trial were from the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan.
The prosecution claimed the video was clear evidence that Petr and the two pastors were guilty of tarnishing the image of Sudan by gathering information on persecution of Christians and genocide for ‘parties hostile to Sudan’.
The president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
The court in Khartoum found Petr Jašek guilty of taking pictures of military installations and entering Sudan without a visa; he was also fined 100,000 Sudanese Pounds (more than £12,000) for doing aid work without a permit.
The three defendants were also convicted of ‘spreading rumours that undermine the authority of the state’ and inciting hatred.
The maximum legal penalty for this is six months – but the judge in Khartoum doubled this sentence. The three have been jailed in Omdurman, north of the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
All three men plan to appeal immediately. The European Parliament earlier called for the unconditional release of the men and the Czech Foreign Ministry has condemned the verdict and may intervene.
Many churches in Khartoum are currently under threat of demolition. In separate cases in Khartoum, a judge has ruled that four churches facing demolition orders should be represented by a lawyer chosen not by the churches, but by the Sudanese authorities. The same applies to a further 21 churches facing the threat of demolition.
Paul Robinson of Release says: ‘Pray that God will comfort and strengthen Petr and the others so they will not lose heart. Ask God for wisdom for the legal team supporting the three men. Pray that their appeal will be heard swiftly and will be successful. And pray that the 25 churches in Sudan facing demolition orders will be allowed to continue their ministries.’
Through its international network of missions Release serves persecuted Christians in 30 countries around the world, by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice. Release is a member of the UK organisations Global Connections and the Evangelical Alliance.