After 16 months in prison on what their church says are trumped-up charges, two Sudanese Catholic priests have refused to accept a presidential amnesty promised last week to political prisoners.

Both Fr. Hilary Boma and Fr. Lino Sebit have been under arrest since August 1998, accused of masterminding a series of explosions in Khartoum designed to overthrow Sudan's Islamist regime.

In a statement released by Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) November 26, the two clerics declared they "do not intend to benefit" from President Omar al-Bashir's blanket offer to release political prisoners.

The president announced the general amnesty when he met on November 25 with Sadiq al-Mahdi, a former prime minister and leader of the opposition Ummah Party. It was one of several conciliatory gestures given to convince key opposition groups to sign peace accords with Khartoum's National Islamic Front (NIF) government.

Both Catholic and Protestant sources in Khartoum confirmed that "all members of Sudan's church" approved of the "courageous stand" taken by Boma and Sebit in refusing to benefit from the general amnesty ordered after the Ummah agreement.

"They will in fact only leave the prison with a total acquittal," the MISNA release stated, noting that the priests were determined to wait "until full light is shed on the terrorism charges that led to their arrest and detention."

After weeks of systematic torture and months of solitary confinement, Boma and Sebit had been put on trial with 18 other defendants in a highly publicized military tribunal during October 1998. According to reports issued by church sources, human rights groups and a United Nations inquiry, the two priests as well as other fellow defendants had been forced under torture ...

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