11 April 2018

Sudan: Govt Says It Is Releasing Political Prisoners; Washington Says No Confirmation Yet

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Judge's gavel used in court.

The U.S State Department said it is closely following developments in Khartoum after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir ordered the immediate release of all political prisoners in the country.

The order to release prisoners was reported by the state news agency SUNA, but a State Department official told VOA "as of the afternoon of April 10, there were no confirmations of released political prisoners."

The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum has been checking with families of detainees.

The SUNA report said the order is part of an effort to promote "reconciliation, national harmony and peace" weeks after mass arrests were made to suppress anti-government protests.

The report did not say how many prisoners would be released, nor did it identify any of them.

The north African country is grappling with a currency crisis and very high rates of inflation that have fueled unrest, although public demonstrations are effectively banned and routinely quelled by security forces.

The government of Sudan has "continued to hold political prisoners and detainees, including protesters. Due to lack of access, the numbers of political prisoners and detainees could not be confirmed," according to State Department's 2016 annual human rights report.

The State Department said Washington would continue to engage the Government of Sudan and urge it to improve human rights practices by ending arbitrary arrest and detention, and allowing citizens, including the opposition, to peacefully engage in the political process.

Bashir ordered the release of 80 political detainees in February. Opposition groups have said about 50 remain in jail, including prominent politician and Sudanese communist party leader Mohamed Mokhtar al-Khatib.

The United States and European embassies in Sudan had requested that all detainees be released. The U.S. embassy contends many of the prisoners are being detained under "inhumane conditions."

VOA's Wayne Lee contributed to this report.

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