Sudanese Police Launch Manhunt to Find Christian

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, February 27 (Compass) -- Sudanese security police have mounted a widening manhunt to track down a local convert to Christianity who went into hiding in Khartoum three weeks ago to escape arrest and possible death.

According to a church leader in contact with Aladin Omer Agabni Mohammed, the former Muslim is in "a real tough situation now."

"He is being hunted everywhere," said the Khartoum churchman, who requested anonymity for the protection of all concerned. "The situation is really becoming intolerable, and I am not sure how he is going to survive, because he's really being threatened."

As a known "apostate" who left Islam 11 years ago to become a Christian, Mohammed is subject to the death penalty under Sudanese criminal law. Now 34 and unmarried, Mohammed was denounced by his family and expelled from his university studies shortly after his conversion. He has since been jailed on several occasions for months at a time.

But so far as Mohammed knows, formal legal charges have never been filed against him. Instead, authorities of the Islamist Khartoum regime have resorted to a pattern of harassment, trying to force him to renounce his faith and return to Islam.

Since late January, Mohammed has been subjected to ongoing interrogations, beatings, drug injections and death threats by Khartoum authorities.

When he tried to leave the country by plane on January 30 and again on February 3, the police intervened, pulling him out of the check-in line at the Khartoum airport. Both times, Mohammed had bought a ticket to Uganda, where he planned to apply to study theology in neighboring Kenya.

Ordered to stay in Khartoum, Mohammed was put under constant surveillance and summoned repeatedly to a security office located opposite St. Francis School in Khartoum. But after the second travel ban was imposed, he decided to go into hiding, changing his lodging frequently and maintaining only occasional telephone contact with relatives and friends.

"Up to this moment Aladin is safe," one of his friends told Compass. "He is now ready for any relocation anywhere, but traveling by land and escaping is too dangerous." Mohammed's passport remains in the hands of the security police, who must also approve his exit visa before he can leave.

Since his release last September after four months in prison, Mohammed stayed with relatives in Khalakla, a district of south Khartoum, and in Morzuk, an area in the adjoining city of Omdurman. But when he spoke with family members by telephone two weeks ago, he said they all admitted they were being watched by the police, who had instructed them to report immediately any contact with him.

Mohammed's relatives reportedly pressed him to say where he was and turn himself in, accusing him of "causing our family much trouble."

So far, his Christian friends have been unable to arrange for any medical check-up for the former Muslim, who in January was forcibly given a series of injections of unknown drugs that left him drowsy and disoriented.

"We really wanted to find out what medical injections were being given," the source said today, "but we are not in a position to do this now." He identified this as an "immediate need" for Mohammed, along with prayer support, protection and his daily necessities while he waits in hiding.

"We are even getting more worried," the source admitted. "It's like we are passing through a tunnel which is completely dark, and when we reach the end, we don't know whether there will be some glimmering light there or not."

According to the church leader, two other Sudanese converts to Christianity are caught in a similar situation, facing "critical danger" under threats from the security police. Both are reportedly in hiding to avoid arrest and further torture, he said.

"Since [the authorities] do not want them, then they should be allowed to get out!" he declared.

U.S. Congressman Joseph R. Pitts commented on Mohammed's case from Washington, D.C., today, noting that leading Islamic scholars had assured him that according to the Quran, "There is no compulsion in religion."

"The government of Sudan disturbingly appears to be following the pattern of the Taliban in its treatment of people," Pitts observed. He urged the Khartoum authorities to "protect religious freedom for all people in Sudan, and allow Aladin Mohammed to freely leave the country."

Copyright 2002, Compass News Direct. Used with Permission.