Fahamu (Oxford)

12 July 2012

Sudan: Protests in Sudan - Media Blackout and Large-Scale Arrests

analysis

Unknown to much of the outside world, the Sudanese authorities have been very brutal while suppressing the protests that have swept the country in reaction to the high cost of living and growing opposition to the Al-Bashir dictatorship.

INTRODUCTION

In mid-June, a series of protests broke out in different areas in Sudan against the high cost of living and economic hardship, worsened by the removal of subsidies on fuel. Protesters called for the toppling of the current regime . The demonstrations that are described by Sudanese citizens as the third Intifada (uprising) come one year after the separation of South Sudan from Sudan on 9 July 2011, which badly affected Sudan's economy. Sudan lost about 75% of its oil production and 65% of total revenue. The two governments have not reached an agreement on the cost of transporting oil from production areas in the South through Sudanese pipelines. The situation deteriorated between the two countries as a result of these disagreements so much that South Sudan stopped oil production. In addition, a violent conflict broke out in April in Hijlij Oil fields.

Sudan's budget was also affected by violence in Blue Nile and South Kordufan after the president rejected an agreement signed by Nafie Ali nafie (the president's assistant) and Malik Aggar as the Leader of the SPLM-North. The agreement assured SPLM-N to establish and register a political party, and clarified security and military arrangements in the two areas.

The Violence - in addition to the violations on people - also added a high cost on the government, while affecting animal and agricultural production in these areas, in addition to citizens' mass displacement. The violence added an economic burden on the budget.

In May, inflation rates reached the highest percentage, 30.4 from 28.6 in April. The market witnessed a rise in the prices of food and beverage. The deficit in the national budget was met by the announcement of a package of austerity measures. The most important decision was the removal of government subsidies on fuel, resulting in an increase in prices of fuel and a number of other goods. Another measure was increasing taxes which also pushed up the prices of goods.

Youth movements and students organized protests and word was spread on social media calling for peaceful change of the regime. But the kick-off was by hundreds of female students in the University of Khartoum who protested peacefully in the surroundings of their hostels at the central campus on Saturday evening 16 June. They demonstrated because of the escalation of prices and economic hardship in Sudan. The protests continued and extended to the surroundings of university and then moved to the city and neighbourhoods in Khartoum State. Later the protests spread out to different states such as El-Jazeera, Kosty, El-Gadarif, Kasala, Port-Sudan and El-Obied, proof that there is a large number of Sudanese citizens who are unhappy with the current situation.

This report documents the protest movement that was led by university students, youth, political activists and civilians. The report covers the period from 16 to 28 June, providing a summary of the growth of the demonstrations as well as the various violations committed by the Sudanese government through its regular forces or militias directly supported by the Sudanese government.

PROTESTS

The protests broke out in the female students' hostels at the University of Khartoum central campus on16 June evening. The students' movement condemned the removal of subsidies on fuel and the rise of prices. The next morning the demonstrations spread to other campuses of university of Khartoum, with the protesters chanting: 'NO to price rises', 'The people want lower prices'. Soon after that, many other universities and other sectors joined the demonstrations in Khartoum State (among them Sudan University and Omdurman Al-Ahleya University). The protesting students quickly linked the economic deterioration with the political regime; the chants changed to calls to overthrow the regime: 'NO, NO to price rises', 'Change, Change El-Bashir', 'People want to overthrow the regime', 'Demand your rights as citizens', and 'Protest Khartoum, we will not be ruled by the thief of Khafori'.

A number of students' and youth organizations, political parties and political organizations (one of them was the National Consensus Forces - that includes opposition parties and movements) issued statements supporting the students and calling for the toppling of the regime.

The reaction of the police was to crack down on the demonstrations. The Central Reserved Police Unit and the Anti-Riot Police Unit fired teargas canisters, used batons and sticks to beat the protesters, detained some students and filed criminal charges against others.

The demonstrations took another popular dimension when residents of Khartoum-Bahri City (El-Sayid Ali St.) joined the demonstrations. Another protest out broke from Omdurman Al-Ahleya University and headed to Umbadda area - parallel to Hamad El-Neil area. (Estimated number of students was two thousands.) They moved after a discussion corner (an assembly in the university campus where students publicly discuss issues related to politics) and then headed to El- Mansoora roundabout towards Umbadda street where some people joined them.

On the fourth day of the demonstrations, the security bodies started called for reinforcement to deal with the protests. Many people in civilians' clothes arrived carrying crude weapons (metal sticks, swords, choppers and water tubes) to participate in crackdown on demonstrations.

On 20 June, the demonstrations spread as the Sudanese parliament approved the president's speech outlining economic austerity measures. The same day witnessed the release of the first statement from the international community regarding the demonstration. The US government expressed deep concern about the suppression by the Sudanese government of peaceful protests and crackdown on press. That day witnessed continuation of demonstrations in Khartoum University, Al-Ahleya University and the Institution for Banking Studies, along with a demonstration that out broke at the end of a public symposium conducted at the premises of the Umma Party in Umdurman.

The protest of Umma party was then followed by a short protest in Ryadh area late at night. Police and NISS violence on protesters increased. Police rounded up a number of Umma party members and the symposium audience inside the building of Umma party and held them until 3am. They shattered the windshield of a party member's car that was parked outside. The security officers threw teargas inside the Umma party building and beat up attendees.

On the sixth day, 21 June, the security targeted bloggers and journalists, as many bloggers were working during the first six days on raising awareness about happenings in Sudan and spreading the news.

Many groups called for a wider demonstration on Friday that was named 'Kataha Friday' (Sandstorm Friday). The scope of demonstrations widened to other neighbourhoods after Kattaha Friday and gained more public support. A number of neighbourhoods in the capital joined the demonstrations: El-Diem, El-Geref West, El-Fetehab, El-Haj Yousif and others. Protests also broke out in other cities such as Sinnar, Port-Sudan (the capital of Red Sea State) and El-Gadarif. The police suppressed protesters using heavy teargas and rubber bullet. The type of teargas that was used kept getting stronger every time. The security detained a number of people among them political activists and youth leaders, photographers and journalists.

On Sunday 24 June, the largest wave of demonstrations happened. There were protests in Khartoum University - Shambat, Center and Omdurman Complexes. There were also demonstrations in El-Diem, Eid Hesein, El-Safia, El-Masalma (in Omdurman), Arkaweet, El-Mamoora, Umbadda and Soba. There were others in Port-Sudan and El-Dowem. The detentions were increased against photographers (two photographers were arrested while taking photos of El-Diem demonstrations. One was released the same day and the other was kept in security custody for four days .His name is Mohamed El-Toum). The detention campaign also targeted members of the Popular Congress Party, Communists Party and Umma Party. There were about 30 detainees both males and females on that day alone (some were released).

The engagement of the security and "Rabbata" (state-supported militias) has increased since the 18 June. Many observers said there is an increase in the numbers of car with darkened windows moving around in Khartoum as well as security agents concentrated in neighbourhoods and residential areas. The security forces have been using armoured to fire teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators, which led to many injuries. In a medical report, Dr. Hala Abuzed, the manager of emergency unit at Khartoum Hospital said: 'We received until 05:00 pm today - Sunday 24 June - more than 20 injured patients'. All of them were students from University of Khartoum.

The demonstration grew on 25, 26 and 27 June, with more states joining the revolutionary movement, such as Port-Sudan, El-Gadarif, Kasala and Atbara.

On Thursday 28 June, a group of lawyers organized a solidarity march in front of Omdurman Courts Complex protesting against the regime's policies in suppressing peaceful demonstrations. The same day, the Sudanese security forces dispersed a protest organized by volunteers working with children with cancer in front of El-Amal tower in Khartoum State. The protestors were asking for cancer medicines for children. But the authorities dispersed the protest and arrested some of the volunteers.

INFORMAL MILITIAS (RABBATA)

During the recent demonstrations, there appeared new types of violations supported by the Sudanese government. At the University of Khartoum and the surrounding streets, when the demonstrations broke out members of NCP (students' wing) attacked other students using metal sticks, swords, choppers and sticks. Eyewitnesses confirmed that many students were badly injured because of Rabbata attacks. The state-supported militia also attacked students in Omdurman Al-Ahleya University, Khartoum University - Center and Omdurman complexes. Witnesses confirmed that members of Rabbata were beating students in front of the police who did not intervene.

President Al Bashir stated in his speech to the NCP students in Friendship Hall on 24 June that: "We are able to send genuine fighters from Mujahideen to the streets to repel the protesters, but we did not do so because we are a responsible government". He added: "We are able to send one million Mujahid to the streets". According to analysts, the president's talk is a confirmation that the NCP is preparing and training its cadres to repel and suppress demonstrators.

Following the demonstrations, there were many detentions of protesters by NISS, the police and Rabbata. Detention was used to suppress and intimidate peaceful protests. It started right after the outbreak of the events and is still ongoing. Detainees are denied the rights to communicate with their families and access to their medicine.

ARRESTS

Arrests occurred in various states: Khartoum state, Kasala, El- Gadarif, El-Obied, Red Sea, Atbara and Blue Nile, Madani and Kamlien. Most detentions were in Khartoum because the city is the headquarters of political parties, youth movements as well as the home of. And as precedent of its kind, the security forces arrested lawyers who were following the cases of detainees. The number of detainees according to our confirmed sources until the time this report was between 800 to 1000.

TORTURE

Security forces have been using different forms of during detention such as physical violence and verbal violence of a sexual nature mainly directed to women. Torture has been used to terrorize and intimidate detainees, to stop their participation in protests and to force them to incriminate other people engaged in organising the demonstrations.

'I was detained during one of the demonstrations in Khartoum streets with my photographer colleague and my journalist friend after we were chased and had a horrible accident which resulted in complete destruction of my photographer friend's car. We were violently taken down from our car and beaten in the face, head and all other parts of our bodies with hands and batons. Then we were thrown in a pick-up vehicle and were ordered to lie on the car's floor on our faces and we were not allowed to open our eyes. They continued beating us on the way to the security office, and then took our mobile phones, car keys and everything else we had - which I didn't notice because I was laying on my face in the car. When we arrived at the security office, they ordered us not to open our eyes and we were violently pushed from the car and beaten and insulted especially us - women - that we are immoral people and we don't have families and that we are bad people (saaleeg) while looking at our faces and repeating the sentence - 'If you belong to families that raised you well, what brought you to participate in the demonstrations?"

This is a testimony published online by one of the female detainees during the demonstrations in Khartoum. Her name is Karima Fathalrahman.

The protests were followed by trials of activists arrested by the police and accused of "breaching the peace". Trials were held in different cities such as Omdurman, Khartoum, Khartoum Bahri and El-Elafon as well as other different Sudanese states. Some lawyers who preferred anonymity said that the judges ignored the conditions for fair trials.

The sentences varied for those convicted, ranging from 20 lashes for a protester. The intention was to humiliate and violate the dignity of protesters were exercising their constitutional right to demonstrate. Other protesters were sent to prison for three to six months.

In a strange precedent, judges ordered accused protesters who were found innocent to sign pledges not to participate in demonstrations in the future. In Khartoum North court, a judge named Ibrahim, sentenced two youths to 20 lashes on the basis of evidence presented by a police officer. Some of those charged were minors.

The security authorities during the protests targeted the headquarters of political parties, in violation of the right to peaceful assembly and organization guaranteed by the constitution. The security forces attacked many headquarters of political parties and homes of some political leaders in the capital and other states. Some leaders and members of these political parties were detained and most of them have not been released.

The NISS broke into headquarters of the New Democratic Forces (Haq) in Khartoum 2 area in the evening of the 18 June. All people were arrested including leaders like Mr. Ahmed Shakir (vice president of the party) and administrators as well as guests who were attending a celebration of the announcement of the initiation of Youth Alliance for Change. The alliance includes 12 youth movements from different states. And security is still surrounding headquarters and closed entrances to it. According to eyewitnesses, detainees were more than 50 persons, among them:

1 Ahmd Shakir

2 Mohamed Mahjoub

3 Hasabo Ibrahim Abdallah

4 Kamal Gasm El-Sied

5 Rashida Shams El-Dien

They also stormed the premises of the Sudanese Congress Party headquarters in Abbaseya in Omdurman and arrested the political secretary of the party, Mastor Ahmed, and eight other members. The leaders of Sudanese El-Ba'ath Party (Sate'e Mohamed El-Haj and Mohamed Dia El-Dien) were arrested as well as a group of youths. The security forces also broke into the National Unity party offices.

On Saturday 23 June, two officers from NISS told the general secretary of Umma party that all political activities of the party were suspended. The Popular Congress party headquarters in Khartoum - Ryadh - was surrounded and some of the party cadres arrested. Police attacked participants in a symposium conducted in the party's headquarters on 25 June and shot teargas to disperse the protesters who were demanding that the regime be brought down.

REPRESSION OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

The authorities violated freedom of expression in various means. They continued to censor newspapers, arresting journalists and anyone who spoke to international media. Some of the detainees said that police demanded their user-names and passwords for accounts on Facebook and their personal e-mails, and they were warned not to change their passwords or they would be arrested again. They also said that their mobile phones were checked and the officers erased all photos related to the protests.

The NISS on Saturday 16 closed down El-Tayar daily. The paper had published a number of articles about corruption and a criticism of an interview with the president on television. The writer of that article was detained. El-Midan newspaper did not publish for more than two months; and thirteen issues were confiscated by orders from NISS. Reports from newspapers said that NISS circulated a statement on Sunday, 17 June, to newspapers and news agencies not to publish any news about the demonstrations and peaceful protests condemning the removal of subsidies on fuel and the continuous increase of prices.

On 17 June, the authorities confiscated three independent newspapers without warning them: El-Ahdath, El-Watan and El-Mustaqilla. El-Tayar newspaper was stopped from publishing for an indefinite period.

The security forces also arrested Martely, the correspondent for the French news agency AFP, on 19 June. His license was withdrawn and he was deported from Sudan.

Since 21 June, NISS has been targeting bloggers and journalists. The security agency arrested Maha El-Sanosi who is a female activist in Girifna movement and a blogger and Egyptian journalist from Blumburg Network, Ms. Selma El-Wardani. She was deported to Cairo on 26 June) because of covering the events at the University of Khartoum.

Blogger Usamma was also arrested for publishing news on Twitter and sending a picture to Al-Jazeera English Channel. Usama Abdallah who was one of the most prominent bloggers using the hashtag #SudanRevolts became a big source for news for the outside media. On 25 June, the authorities closed down some websites that published news on the revolution, such as, El-Rakoba, Sudaneseonline and Hurriyat.

The authorities arrested journalists Mr. Khalid Ahmed and Ms. Ibtihaj Motwakil who both worked for El-Sudani newspaper, while they were covering the demonstrations in in Khartoum. NISS also confiscated their cameras.

The authorities arrested everyone who had a camera claiming that it affected the national security. Journalist Ms. Najlaa Sid Ahmed was ordered to go to the NISS offices where she was threatened to stop her from covering and documenting the violations. NISS also detained a big number of photography journalists during the demonstrations, among them: Mohamed Toum, Mohamed Sukki and Sari Dafa-Allah.

The reports that we have say the security forces broke into the house of Yasir Fathi, an activist in Umma party, and arrested him. The government clearly disregarded the right to privacy for activists and citizens, which is guaranteed in the international conventions signed by Sudan and in the Sudanese constitution.

CONCLUSION

The security forces have systematically blocked the voices from the streets and muzzled the media.

They have mounted a huge campaign of detention against activists, activists from political parties, journalists and photographers, youth groups and protesters. Some of them were detained for a long period and have not been released yet; and detainees have been subjected to different forms of torture.

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