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Two Sudanese pastors face 'final' hearing Aug. 5, as nation continues anti-Christian attacks
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The Republic of Sudan's government is expected to hold a "final hearing" for two Christian pastors Aug. 5, media reports indicate. The case, which might result in death sentences for the pair, is the latest in a series of crackdowns on Christians there.

The hearing for pastors Yat Michael Rout, 49, and Peter Yein Reith, 36, "could lead to the death penalty," the Mission News Network reported. According to London's Daily Mail newspaper, the pair face "charges of espionage and 'undermining the constitution, each of which can carry the death penalty or a sentence of life imprisonment.

Both men are Presbyterian pastors from South Sudan, and both are said to have families with young children. Rout, according to savesudanpastors.com, was a guest preacher at a congregation in Khartoum and was arrested in December 2014 for encouraging the church "to be strong and endure the governments persecution." Reith, in turn, was jailed in January of this year for asking government officials about Rout's condition after the arrest.

At a July 23 hearing, according to Morningstar News, Rout's defense attorney rebutted claims the pastor had "insulted religious creeds" in the sermon. "To urge believers to be zealous for their church is not an insult against God," the attorney said, according to the report.

"The government of Sudan, led by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief," the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted in its 2015 Annual Report. The U.S. Department of State has since 1999 listed Sudan as a "country of particular concern" in terms of human rights issues, and the USCIRF this year recommended that designation continue.

Earlier this year, Open Doors USA, a group that aids persecuted Christians, moved Sudan back into sixth place on its World Watch List, which ranks the top 50 countries "where it is most dangerous and difficult to be a Christian."

Since the predominantly South Sudan region seceded and became an independent nation in 2011, the al-Bashir government has engaged in increasing persecution of Christians. In late June, 12 Christian students, 17 to 23 years old, from the war-torn Nuba Mountains in Sudan's South Kordofan region, were arrested outside Khartoum's Evangelical Baptist Church on "public order" charges of wearing short skirts or trousers. Two were released, but 10 women face trials, Amnesty International said.

"Sudan must drop the charges and release these women immediately," Sarah Jackson, Amnesty's East Africa deputy director, said in a statement. "A hemline is not a crime."

Last year, Sudan imprisoned, sentenced to death and then released Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old mother whose father was Muslim. Ibrahim's case, reportedly fueled by family rivalries over a business she owned, became an international cause, with pressure from the United States, Italy and the Vatican leading to her release.
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