Sudanese priest released after convert found

Khartoum, Sudan - A Sudanese Anglican priest and five others arrested on charges of kidnapping a Muslim woman who wanted to convert to Christianity were released on Thursday after the woman was found, clergymen said.

A police official said the woman was back with her family and the investigation into her kidnapping had been dropped.

Reverend Elia Kumundan, another employee from the Catholic Church and three others were arrested after the woman disappeared in March after approaching the church.

Church officials said they were being targeted by the Islamist Khartoum government for religious reasons.

"They have all been released this morning," said Reverend Joseph Taban Lasuba of the Episcopal All Saints' Cathedral in Khartoum. He and other clergymen said they were being harassed for accepting an apostate and it was not the first time.

Apostasy is a controversial issue within Islam. Some scholars say it is punishable by death, while others believe in freedom of religion.

In Sudan, under sharia law since 1983, politician Mahmoud Muhammed Taha was accused of apostasy and executed in 1985.

The church says Muslim converts to Christianity are often harassed by authorities and even tortured. Many are forced to flee the country as their families threatened to kill them.

Sudan's new constitution was created last year after a peace deal ended two decades of civil war between the mainly Christian and animist south and the northern Islamist government. It enshrines freedom of religion.