- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

More than 100 protesters gathered in front of the Sudanese Embassy yesterday to protest the expulsion of the Episcopal Church from its Khartoum headquarters and human rights abuses in the African nation.

“The goal of the protest is to call attention to the plight of persecuted Christians in Sudan, to demand the property be returned, and draw attention to the humanitarian disaster in Darfur,” said Rt. Rev. Francis Campbell Gray, assistant bishop of the Diocese of Virginia.

The Sudanese government has razed a high school funded by the Episcopal Church.

“There is a repeated pattern of destroying church buildings under the pretext of eminent domain and then never giving a permit to build anything new,” said Russ Randle, a Washington-based lawyer and former missionary in Sudan.

Bishop Gray said Sudanese officials showed up at the headquarters May 20 and “[they] said, ‘Get out,’ ransacked the place [and] took equipment.”

Both Congress and the United Nations have documented evidence of genocide in Darfur, an area of western Sudan that is mostly closed to humanitarian aid workers.

John Majok, a former Sudanese refugee who now lives in the United States, said he watched as his friends and relatives were killed. “This was simply because … they refused to surrender to the enforced values of the Islamic culture,” he said.

During yesterday’s protest, which included the singing of hymns and waving of signs, three church officials were invited to speak with the ambassador. The State Department also is in contact with the Sudanese government about the issue.

The Sudanese ambassador could not be reached for comment, but a statement released by the embassy said the eviction was based on a court order in the legal dispute about the ownership of the property.

The statement also said the demolished school is being rebuilt at a new location.

Bishop Gray denied all the claims regarding the school and said the headquarters building in Khartoum is rightfully the property of the church.

“We’re obviously not just concerned about … the government’s activities against the Episcopal Church and other religious activities, but the rights of all the Sudanese people,” said Bob Kinney, a parishioner at Christ Church in Alexandria who attended the protest.

Sudan was criticized by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in a report earlier this month, which read in part, “The government of Sudan continues severely and systematically to commit violations of freedom of religion or belief, particularly against Christians, disfavored Muslims, and followers of traditional African religions.”

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