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Source: Radio Tamazuj

Several churches and church institutions have been attacked since the outbreak of conflict in South Sudan between two warring factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

South Sudan has a mixed population of Christians, Muslims and practitioners of native religions. Many churches in the country were established after 2005, when the Islamist NCP party lost power to SPLM, a secular party with Marxist origins.

The church-building wave during the inter-war years of 2005-2013 was accompanied by the construction of more than 15 Catholic and Evangelical radio stations, several of which have been closed in 2014. 

South Sudan’s ongoing war has pitted two factions of the ruling SPLM against each other. SPLM-Juba controls the national government and the capital, and the rebel SPLM-IO holds territory in three states.

Below is a timeline of key events affecting Christian churches in South Sudan since the start of the war between the SPLM factions:

Mid-December – A number of clergy of Nuer origin are caught up in ethnically targeted violence in Juba. Several are forced to flee or are killed, including Reverend Simon Nyang Lam, who is taken from his house in Juba and shot dead.

Christian churches shelter members of the Nuer ethnic group in Juba and Aweil, while Nuer clergy are reported to also have provided protection to Dinkas in Bentiu. 

Mid-December – Radio Jonglei in Bor, run by a Christian ministry, goes off-air amid violence in the town.

Mid-January – At least 14 people are killed at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Bor. Six of the victims may have been raped before being killed. According to the church’s bishop, “They all worked at the church, did different jobs, bible readings and one was an ordained pastor.”

Mid- January – Rev. Daniel Giel Pal of the Eastern Upper Nile Presbyterian is killed in unclear circumstances during fighting between government and opposition forces.

Late January – The Leer Mission of a Catholic missionary order is abandoned and looted during a government attack on the town. Missionaries flee to swamps together with much of the civil population.

8 February – Two pastors are killed in a roadside ambush near Bor.

13 February – Clergy aim to facilitate inter-ethnic reconciliation in Jonglei.

Mid-February – Opposition forces abduct and rape four girls from Christ the King Church in Malakal and loot property from the Malakal Cathedral.

Mid-February – ‘Voice of Love’ radio station in Malakal goes off-air.

1 March – Nine girls are allegedly raped by gunmen loyal to SPLM-IO at a Malakal church.

18 March – 42 Dinka and Nuer pastors join hands for peace

5 April – Bishops of different denominations join in launching an independent peace initiative, the National Platform for Peace and Reconciliation (NPPR). Vice President Wani Igga, who heads the committee responsible for mobilizing new recruits for the army, expresses reservations about the bishops’ peace platform.

9 April – The South Sudan Council of Churches issues a pastoral statement saying they are “horrified by the ongoing mobilization by the conflicting parties” and calling for peace and inter-ethnic harmony.

18 April – A reporter of the Catholic Church’s Voice of Hope FM says they are under censorship by the National Security Service

21 April – Church leaders demand to be observers of the Addis peace talks

4 May – Residents flee a church in Renk when fighting starts, saying they no longer feel safe in churches because they were targeted elsewhere 

9 May – The Episcopal Archbishop prays with rivals Salva Kiir and Riek Machar at peace negotiations in Addis Ababa, but the two leaders refuse to shake hands with each other.

20 May – Government spokesman accuses religious leaders at the Addis Ababa peace talks of partiality, saying they are behaving like ‘rebels’.

25 May – A church leader at the peace talks responds to the government’s ‘unfounded’ accusation, affirming the religious leaders’ neutrality

5 July – Bishop Isaiah Majok Dau of the Sudan Pentecostal Church says politicians are opposing the church because they need a scapegoat for their own failures and because it “always talks of peace and freedom.”

7 July – Clerics say South Sudanese politicians ‘love war’  

9 July – Episcopal Bishop Enock Tombe warns leaders to repent and admit mistakes. He says that after observing the peace talks in Addis Ababa he sees that neither side is serious about peace, adding that there must be truth, reconciliation, and accountability.

The bishop says that politicians “have to face the accountability first to the people. And if we get another chance to vote for them again. I don’t think we will vote for them. We in the church will work against those who killed people, took away the people’s prosperity and have not repented.”

16 July – Christian radio station Spirit FM in Yei is threatened by the country’s National Security Service for unclear reasons.

Late July – Authorities in Northern Bahr al Ghazal State temporarily close down Wëër Bei FM, run by Cush for Christ ministry. The station is accused of broadcasting an interview that displeased the government.

5 August – Rebels boycott peace talks because they don’t want religious leaders and other non-armed actors at the table.

15 August – Government begins a boycott of peace negotiations in Addis Ababa, rejecting the participation of the religious leaders’ delegation, civil society and other non-armed groups.

16 August – Government shuts down Catholic radio station Bakhita FM and arrests its news editor.

17 August – President Kiir skips the regular Sunday service at Kator Cathedral the day after his security agents shut down Bakhita FM.

17 and 24 August – Catholic radio listeners complain of missing broadcasts of Sunday Mass as Bakhita FM, with an audience of more than 100,000 regular listeners, remains off-air.

17 August – Christian radio station Wëër Bei FM says it would rather shut down its news programmes than comply with censorship orders, citing a “responsibility to the truth.”

20 August – Equipment is robbed from a Christian radio station in Bor during a break-in, the second time the station is looted since December.

21 August – Government sets conditions for allowing Bakhita FM back on air, suggesting the radio station should only speak about spiritual matters.

24 August – A Catholic church leader hits back at politicians, calling them “dry bones” in need of spiritual revitalization.

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