Czech National Sentenced to Life in Prison for Documenting Christian Persecution

On Sunday, a court in Khartoum, Sudan sentenced a Czech citizen, Petr Jašek, to life in prison, and his associates to lengthy prison terms on charges of espionage for documenting Christian persecution and for helping pay the medical costs of a burn victim. The Czech Foreign Ministry has denounced these charges as baseless.

“Petr Jašek was imprisoned for life,” attorney Muhanad Nur told Morning Star News. Middle East Concern, an organization dedicated to protecting the religious freedom of Christians in the war-torn region, laid out the charges in full:

The court sentenced Petr Jašek to life in prison for espionage, to six months in prison for spreading rumours that undermine the authority of the state, to a fine of 100,000 Sudanese Pounds (approx. USD 16,000) for undertaking NGO work without a permit, and to one year in prison each (to be served consecutively) for inciting strife between communities, for entry in and photography of military areas and equipment, and illegal entry into Sudan.

The Czech Foreign Ministry, in rejecting the ruling as groundless, reported the prison term as 20 years, not life, according to the Associated Press (AP). The ministry announced that a deputy foreign minister will travel to Sudan in the coming days to try to negotiate Jašek’s release. The ministry added that Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek is ready to go if necessary. Czech officials said Jašek was in Sudan to help local Christians but was arrested in December 2015.

The Czech statement said there was no evidence to support either his conviction or sentence.

Two other men were also given prison terms by the Sudanese court. Reverend Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour and Mr. Abdulmonem Abdumawla were each sentenced to ten years in prison for allegedly abetting Jašek in the crime of espionage, and two more years each, for the crimes of inciting strife between communities and spreading rumors to undermine the authority of the state. These 12-year sentences are to be served consecutively.

Middle East Concern, in reporting the sentencing of the other two men, noted that “the legal maximum penalty for” spreading rumors that undermine the authority of the state is six months in prison. Lawyers for the three men indicated they will appeal the sentences within 15 days.

According to the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), in November 2015, Jašek met with a young man from Darfur (Ali Omer) who had been badly burned during a demonstration, and donated money toward his medical treatment. As Jašek left Sudan, he was searched by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), who discovered a receipt for the donation.

NISS confiscated his personal belongings, including his cell phone, laptop, and camera. Nine days later, they arrested the other two men. Jašek has assisted VOM to provide care to persecuted Christians in Sudan and Nigeria, including medical care for Christians attacked by the terrorist group Boko Haram, which is linked to the Islamic State (ISIS).

While the receipt leading to Jašek’s arrest showed he gave money to pay for Omer’s treatment, prosecutors accused the Czech national of donating it to rebel groups.

Prosecutors also charged Jašek, in December 2015, with “tarnishing Sudan’s image” by documenting the persecution of Christians.

“Mr. Jašek, Rev. Abduraheem and Mr. Abdumawla are not spies; they were simply driven by compassion to source finance for the medical treatment of a man whose injuries are so severe that he requires ongoing medical care,” Joel Edwards, advocacy director at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), told Morning Star News. “We call for the annulment of the verdict and the immediate release of these three men. In addition, we urge the Sudanese authorities once again to undertake a review of the sweeping powers exercised by the NISS and to end the targeting of ethnic and religious minorities.”

Sudan is the fifth most dangerous country in the world for Christian persecution, according to the World Watch List put out by Open Doors. Their report said there is no rule of law in the country, and no freedom of expression either.

Cases like Jašek’s underscore Sudan’s bad reputation. With any luck, the Czech Republic’s international declarations should shine a spotlight on Christian persecution in this African country.