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Sudan called ‘disaster for religious liberty’

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WASHINGTON (BP) — The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has urged the U.S. State Department not to ignore religious freedom and persecution issues before possibly lifting sanctions on the government of Sudan.

The ERLC joined six other organizations — including Samaritan’s Purse, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the Enough Project — in a June 29 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling for his department’s consideration of Sudan’s treatment of religious minorities. The organizations sent the letter as the State Department nears a July 12 deadline for lifting sanctions on the East African country.

The State Department has included Sudan in its list of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) — which is reserved for the world’s most extreme violators of religious liberty — since the designation was first used in 1999. Sudan’s repressive Islamic government in Khartoum was one of 10 CPCs in the State Department’s most recent list in October.

President Obama signed an executive order seven days before he left office calling for the waiving of trade and investment sanctions by July 12 if the secretary of State finds Sudan has maintained its positive actions. In the previous six months, Khartoum had reduced its offensive military actions, improved humanitarian access and cooperated with the United States on terrorist threats, Obama said in his order.

Obama’s order did not call for a focus on Sudan’s religious freedom record, however. In urging Tillerson to include such issues in a policy review, the ERLC and its six partners said the laws supportive of Khartoum’s version of Islam “restrict the freedoms of minority groups” and deprive them of rights guaranteed under the country’s constitution. These minorities include Christians, Shia and other Muslim groups, and adherents to traditional religions, they said.

“Sudan remains a disaster for religious freedom,” said Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s general counsel and vice president for public policy. “Our brothers and sisters in Christ frequently face state-endorsed marginalization and persecution.

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