Two South Sudanese Presbyterian pastors who were imprisoned for over half a year in Sudan and faced the death penality for espionage and other conspiracy charges have finally made it home after they were banned from leaving the country following their release earlier this month.
Yat Michael and Peter Yein Reith arrived home in Juba on Wednesday after being arrested and imprisoned last winter and subsequently hit with various trumped-up charges of crimes against the state that could have been punishable by death.
"Thank God for their arrival home," the wife of pastor Michael proclaimed in an interview with Morning Star News.
Although a judge ruled the pastors guilty of lesser crimes on Aug. 5, he ordered for the two men to be immediately released because he decided they had already served enough time in prison, for the majority of which they had no access to their families or attorney.
The day after the men were released from prison, they attempted to board an airplane at Khartoum International Airport but were stopped by authorities because Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services ordered a travel ban against the gentlemen when they were originally detained.
Michael was detained last December in Khartoum after speaking out against the Sudanese government destroying church property at Bahri Evangelical Church. Reith was arrested a few weeks later in January after he asked government officials about Michael's whereabouts.
As the pastors' appeal to have their travel ban lifted was denied earlier this month, it was initially unclear how they were later allowed to travel home. The Rev. William Devlin, an American pastor who was in Khartoum when the pastors were released, told The Christian Post the pastors' travel ban was was lifted.
"All of us who have been praying and fasting for pastors Peter and Michael are thankful that they have now been allowed to travel outside Khartoum. Both pastors have been reunited with their families and have moved on from Sudan," Devlin said in an email. "My continued prayer for my friends and colleagues in the Sudanese government is that they will allow religious freedom to flourish and allow all Sudanese of all faiths to publicly express their faith and that Christians, a minority in Khartoum, would be allowed to freely worship without discrimination."
Upon arriving in Juba, Michael and Reith went straight from Juba International Airport to participate in a thanksgiving prayer service at Evangelical church in Hai Jebel, where they were praised by local congregants.
"This is a great day for our pastors," one church member was quoted by Radio Tamazuj as saying.
Upon his release, Michael said he felt as though he was "born again."
"I am feeling free because I was in jail for many months," Michael said. "I have become like I'm born again."
Reith explained that he and Michael were released because of the prayers of those who cared about them.
"We are very happy now we are free because of your prayers," Reith was quoted by the American Center for Law and Justice as stating. "Thank you for all that you have done for us. God heard your prayers and we are free! With the help of [our attorney] Mohaned [Mustafa] and his team, they do great work for us and God uses him."
Although the two pastors were finally able to return home, international human rights groups continue to pressure Sudan to uphold the basic right of religious freedom.
In late June, 12 Christian girls from the Nuba Mountains were arrested while walking home from a church service in Khartoum, charged with indecent dress and forced to strip out of the trousers and skirts. While five of the girls were ruled innocent, five others were found guilty and fined. One 19-year-old girl was also sentenced to endure 20 lashes.
"This incident is just another example of the Khartoum regime's ongoing harassment of Christians when they are not outright persecuting them," Faith McDonnell, of the U.S.-based Institute on Religion & Democracy, previously told CP. "It is an intimidation tactic of the Islamic regime to try to discourage Christians from attending church."