Sudan has been in the headlines of late over its persecution of a Christian woman who was arrested and condemned to death for refusing to recant her faith, but it's the nation's recent decision to ban the construction of new churches that is raising additional concern among watchdogs.
As the BBC reported last week, the Sudan Council of Churches, among other groups and international watchdogs, has criticized the government for refusing to hand out permits to open new churches.
Shalil Abdullah, an official with Sudan's Ministry of Guidance and Endowments, announced July 12 that there were enough houses of worship to serve Christians living in the majority-Muslim nation following South Sudan's independence in 2011, according to the Tablet.
A picture taken on June 27, 2014, shows the Presidential Palace under construction in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum (EBRAHIM HAMID/AFP/Getty Images)
Despite these claims, though, the Rev. Kori El Ramli, the council's secretary general, recently rebutted that Christianity is growing and that more churches are needed.
"We want the government to give us new plots so we can build a new church," El Ramli said. "We are citizens and the constitution says there is freedom of religion and worship so we are using this to get our rights."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide USA, a group that aids persecuted Christians, said that the situation gives a lens into the roadblocks Christians have faced in the North African nation.
"The Christian community in Sudan has continued to face increased harassment from the government since the South Sudan secession," the organization proclaimed in a press release. "Christians have been detained by the National Intelligence Security Services and non-Sudanese Christians have been deported or refused entry into the country. Church buildings have been demolished often with less than 24 hours’ notice, and church properties have been vandalized with impunity."
These comments come after the Church of Christ in North Khartoum — a building housing a congregation of more than 400 people — was reportedly demolished earlier this month while a mosque was left standing nearby.
On Feb. 17, 2014, something similar happened to another Church of Christ building, according to the human rights group. These actions follow the torching of a Catholic church by a Muslim mob back in 2012.
FILE - In this file image made from an undated video provided Thursday, June 5, 2014, by Al Fajer, a Sudanese nongovernmental organization, Meriam Ibrahim, sitting next to Martin, her 18-month-old son, holds her newborn baby girl that she gave birth to in jail. (AP Photo/Al Fajer, File)
"We are deeply concerned by Minister Shalil Abdullah’s statement reaffirming the policy to deny new church permits," said Andy Dipper, COO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. "This policy, and the continued practice of demolishing and confiscating church land, constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief, guaranteed in article 6 and 38 of Sudan’s Interim Constitution as well as article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is signatory."
As TheBlaze most recently covered, Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian woman, was first arrested and charged with adultery in August 2013 and was later also charged with apostasy in February 2014 after she said she was a Christian and not a Muslim.
You can read about Ibrahim's horrific experience behind bars, including being forced to deliver a baby while in chains, here.