Khartoum court frees South Sudan pastors accused of spying
KHARTOUM - A court in Khartoum Wednesday freed two South Sudanese pastors after acquitting them on charges -- including spying and crimes against the state -- that could have seen them face the death penalty.
Yat Michael and Peter Yen were arrested in Khartoum in December 2014 and January 2015 respectively and were facing eight charges.
A judge found each Christian pastor guilty on one charge, releasing them on the basis they had already served their sentences as they awaited trial.
Judge Ahmed Ghaboush said "the sentence they served in prison is enough, release them immediately and return the mobile phones and laptops" that were shown as evidence in court.
He convicted Michael of disturbing the public peace and Yen of creating and running a criminal organisation.
Outside the court, the men's families rejoiced and sang, with some relatives breaking down in tears.
Friends and supporters shouted "Hallelujah!" at the news that the men would be released after nearly eight months in prison.
Foreign diplomats inside the courtroom followed proceedings, including the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedoms David N. Saperstein.
Michael was detained by the powerful National Intelligence and Security Services after delivering a sermon at a church in the Khartoum North area.
Yen was arrested by NISS agents in January when he visited Khartoum, where he delivered a letter asking about Michael's whereabouts.
Both belonged to the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.
Their trial opened on May 19 on the eight charges, which included waging war against the state and undermining the constitutional order, which can incur the death penalty.
The six other counts against the pastors included espionage and all are punishable by flogging.
South Sudan, which split from Sudan in 2011, has a population that is mostly Christian or animist, while most Sudanese are Sunni Muslims.