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2 pastors facing death sentences freed in South Sudan

NAIROBI, Kenya — After international outcry, two South Sudanese Presbyterian Evangelical Church pastors who faced a possible death sentence in Sudan have been set free after a court hearing Wednesday (Aug. 5).

The Rev. Michael Yat and the Rev. Peter Reith were on trial in Khartoum on criminal charges of undermining the constitutional system, espionage, promoting hatred among sects, breach of public peace and offenses relating to insulting religious beliefs. The first two charges are punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment.

“I am feeling free because I was in jail for many months. I have become like I’m born again,” said Yat in comments to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the global Christian anti-persecution group that announced the release.

More than 220,000 people had signed a petition by the American Center for Law and Justice, which sought their freedom. CSW had run a campaign to free Yat and Reith, who were detained on Dec. 14, 2014, and Jan. 11, 2015, respectively.

“We are overjoyed at the clergymen’s release from prison,” said CSW chief executive Mervyn Thomas.

Since largely Christian South Sudan gained independence in 2011, Christians in the largely Islamic and Arabic Sudan have faced frequent arrests, harassment and interrogation by intelligence agencies.

Last month, 10 young Christian women were detained for wearing trousers and miniskirts to church in the war-torn Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan.

“We continue to urge Sudan to uphold its constitutional guarantees for freedom of religion or belief and its responsibility to promote and protect this right under international law, in order to preserve Sudan’s pluralism and diversity,” said Thomas in a statement.

— by Fredrick Nzwili | RNS

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