Christian captives freed in Sudan, Vietnam, and Iran
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 8/10/15, 10:05 am
Persecution and human rights organizations rejoiced last week as three repressive regimes released five Christians held on trumped-up charges.
Sudan released from prison two South Sudanese pastors accused of spying. Two Christian prisoners in Vietnam and one in Iran also gained their freedom after serving “unwarranted” sentences.
Sudanese officials arrested and tried Pastors Yat Michael Ruot and Peter Yein Reith on multiple charges, including breach of the peace, managing a criminal or terrorist organization, and collecting and leaking information harmful to national security, World Watch Monitor reported. A charge of undermining the constitutional system was dropped. A Sudanese court found them guilty of two lesser charges and released them for time served.
“We are very pleased that the two pastors are now out of detention, but they should not have been charged and detained at all, let alone convicted,” U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Chairman Robert P. George said. He called it a “textbook example” of Sudan’s persecution of Christians. USCIRF has recommended Sudan be designated a country of particular concern.
Ruot equated his release to a rebirth.
“I am feeling free because I was in jail for many months,” he told Christian Solidarity Worldwide. “I have become like I’m born again.”
Ruot was arrested after preaching at a church, while authorities arrested Reith after he traveled to Sudan to find his fellow pastor. Although released from prison, the pair weren’t able to leave Sudan because authorities did not lift a travel ban against them. A hearing on the ban is scheduled for Aug. 9, according to the American Center for Law and Justice.
International attention about their trial kept pressure on Sudan’s government.
“This is a clear answer to the prayers of Christians around the world, and a demonstration that Sudan does pay attention to what the rest of the world thinks,” said Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs. “Now we urge Sudan to lift the travel ban immediately and allow these brave servants of Christ to return home with their families.”
The same week Sudan freed Ruot and Reith, Vietnamese authorities released Catholic blogger Paulus Le Van Son and Protestant activist Nguyen Van Oai. Both served four-year prison terms for “trying to overthrow the legitimate government.” They were arrested during a 2011 crackdown against bloggers and others with ties to human and religious rights groups, Asia News reported. Radio Free Asia (RFA) said authorities detained them without warrants and gave them limited access to lawyers.
Van Oai told RFA in recent months security personnel pressured him to plead guilty and even sign a confession, but he would not. He proclaimed his innocence throughout. The communist nation ranks 16th on Open Door’s World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, persecution of Christians is even more severe than in Vietnam. Iranian Christians rejoiced when authorities released Church of Iran member Alireza Seyyedian on Aug. 1, Middle East Concern reported. Seyyedian served three and a half years in prison after authorities re-arrested him in March 2012 for trying to enter Turkey. His first arrest was in 2010. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, his lawyer said Iranian courts considered Seyyedian’s baptism in Turkey an act against the state.