Christians in Sudan worship in fear - | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Christians in Sudan worship in fear

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Women in a Sudanese church pray for a woman sentenced to death for marrying a Christian man. (Source: CNN) Women in a Sudanese church pray for a woman sentenced to death for marrying a Christian man. (Source: CNN)

KHARTOUM, SUDAN (CNN) - Sudanese Christians are under mounting pressure to alter their beliefs.

Last month brought the story of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a woman accused of renouncing Islam as she married her Christian husband.

She's been sentenced to death.

Other Christians in the country increasingly fear for their safety.

During a church service in Sudan they're praying for Yehya, the 27-year-old mother of two condemned to death by hanging.

Her crime is converting to Christianity.

As the case has dragged on, the pews in churches across the capital have emptied.

For many Christians in Sudan going to church has become an act of both courage and conviction.

Such is the level of fear that in a boarded up back room a Christian activist agreed to speak only if her identity was concealed and voice disguised.

She says the trial for apostasy is just the latest attack on Christians in Sudan.

"Even just last year on the 17 of May, one of our churches was burnt by a group of extremists. Thankfully, the students were on holiday. But there were guards and people living there, Ethiopians, Sudanese, Southern Sudanese," she said.

She said going to church can bring about thoughts of fear.

"Sometimes, I feel scared," she said. "The church is now contaminated with terror. You don't feel safe in prayer."

A grainy mobile phone still taken by activists purports to show the day the church was burned.

Witnesses say just off camera police stood by and watched.

There is a growing sense among Christians that violence against them, whether through words or actions, is increasingly being ignored.

Yehya's husband Daniel said he doesn't feel safe and doesn't trust the authorities to protect him.

He says that both he and his wife have been threatened several times. He said they were told, ‘we know where you live, and that we can come to your home and kill you.'

The Sudanese constitution enshrines the rights of religious minorities and publicly Sudan touts the many churches in the center of its capital as evidence of tolerance. But how deep does the tolerance run? Not very, says Nabeel Adeeb, a prominent Sudanese human rights lawyer who is himself Christian.

"If you look at the laws of the country, the laws favor Muslims," Adeeb said.

"Number one, the crime of apostasy which is creating a wall around Islam that nobody is allowed to leave," he said. "Even in cases of custody in mixed marriages, the law says ‘the one who has the better religion,' of course the ‘better religion' is Islam."

Adeeb said he will not allow for his mind to be influenced by the laws into thinking he's a second-class citizen.

"No, I wouldn't allow that idea to creep into my mind. But there is a trying to make me one and I won't be one. I'll never be one," he said.

As the world struggles to exert pressure on Sudan, a mother of two waits in a jail cell to learn her fate. And her entire community waits with her, praying not just for her life, they pray also for their own freedom, the freedom to worship in peace.

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