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International Christian Concern
The defense presented its case yesterday attempting to refute questionable evidence in the death penalty trial of two South Sudanese pastors charged with spying in Khartoum, Sudan. The defense closed its case having to persuade the judge of the pastors' innocence under a presumption of their guilt.
Having been deprived of access to his clients since June 3rd, defense attorney Mohaned Mustafa called two expert witnesses showing that the evidence presented by the state may have been planted onto Pastor Peter and Pastor Michael's computers by Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
On July 3rd, the prosecution presented information gleaned from the pastors' laptops as evidence against them, including maps of Khartoum, Sudanese demographic data, internal church reports, and a confidential NISS guide. Mustafa called an information technology specialist as a witness to demonstrate how easy it is to upload the sensitive information onto a computer, especially since NISS has possessed their laptops for five months.
"If somebody took your laptop, they can put the information on it. It is easy to put anything you want on the laptops," Mustafa told International Christian Concern (ICC).
Mustafa's witnesses also included a former Sudanese army general and 2010 presidential candidate Abdul Aziz Khalid, who testified to the public availability of the maps and population data found on the computers. The pastors had religious cause for keeping the church files stored there.
"They are missionaries. This is not a crime in Sudan, but this is not acceptable to the government," Mustafa said.
The Sudanese Constitution states in Article 24: "Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and religion and the right to manifest and disseminate his religion or belief in teaching, practice, or observance. No one shall be coerced to profess faith in which he does not believe or perform rituals or worship that he does not voluntarily accept. This right shall be exercised in a manner that does not harm public order or the feelings of other, and in accordance with the law."
Defense Attorney Barred From Access to Pastors
Mustafa told ICC that NISS violated standard legal procedure in the way the agency handled the evidence, and that the pastors' constitutional rights were being denied.
"From June 3rd, I have had no access to prepare them and even their family. It is unconstitutional. It is illegal. It is a clear violation of their rights," Mustafa said.
The lack of access to their families, especially, has been emotionally trying. Pastor Peter and Pastor Michael have been denied that contact since they were transferred from low security Omdurman Men's Prison to high-security Kober Prison in early June.
The pastors stand charged with six crimes, including undermining the constitutional system, espionage, promoting hatred amongst sects, breach of public peace, and offenses relating to insulting religious beliefs. The top two charges carry the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Closing arguments will be delivered on July 23rd, and a final decision is expected on August 5th. The pastors have been detained since December and January when they were arrested in connection with a pre-existing land dispute between the Sudanese government and the Khartoum Bhari Evangelical Church.
Despite the seriousness of the charges, Mustafa remains confident. "The evidence itself is not enough to charge them. From the beginning, there was no case," he told ICC. "If the court is fair, the judge will dismiss the case," he added.
The international attention that has mounted and the pressure that concerned people and advocacy organizations have asserted on the Sudanese government appear to have influenced the case. Two representatives from the Sudanese Ministry of Justice as well as representatives from various embassies in Khartoum were present for the latest proceedings, including a representative from the United States.
ICC's advocacy in the case has included partnering with other like-minded organization to co-sign a letter to Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir requesting the release of Pastors Peter and Michael and calling for an end to the persecution of Christians in the country.
ICC's Regional Manager for Africa, Troy Augustine, said, "Pastors Peter and Michael need your prayers more now than ever. Sudan should do the right thing and release them. The court proceedings have proven time and time again that the state's case is non-existent against them. While we remain confident that justice will prevail, we are also appalled that the Sudanese government continues to deny Pastor Peter and Pastor Michael their basic rights of access to their attorney and their families."
Note: The names "Pastor Peter" and "Pastor Michael" are simplified versions of their full names Peter Yein Reith and Yat Michael Ruot, which carry a variety of spellings. The names used in the article were chosen for clarity and consistency.
For interviews, contact Troy Augustine, Regional Manager for Africa: email@example.com
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