Dabanga Sudan — Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have welcomed the news that President Omar Al Bashir ordered the release of all political prisoners in Sudan, however the detentions should never have occurred in the first place, they said.
On Tuesday, Al Bashir issued a presidential decree, ordering the release of all political detainees in the country.
In a statement on the same day, HRW considered the order "a grim reminder of a defining feature of Sudan's political landscape: the periodic mass arrest and detention of opposition leaders to silence them whenever they threaten to speak out.
"Whatever his motivations, Al Bashir does not deserve congratulations," the human rights organisation said. "The release of political detainees is not a gift or a political concession, but a basic obligation of respect for fundamental principles of human rights and rule of law."
Amnesty International welcomed the release of "at least 56 opposition activists" in a press statement on Wednesday. They spent up to 84 days in arbitrary detention for protesting against the escalating costs of food and healthcare.
"The release of political detainees is not a gift or a political concession, but a basic obligation of respect for fundamental principles of human rights and rule of law." - HRW
After the government implemented a series of austerity measures in early January, hundreds of opposition leaders and activists were detained, mainly in the capital Khartoum, without charge or access to lawyers.
Amnesty's regional director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes, Joan Nyanyuki commented that "For close to three months, the lives, families and livelihoods of each of the detainees had come to a standstill - just because they peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression."
They were subsequently held in inhumane, cramped conditions, with more than 20 detainees kept in 5m by 7m cells, or smaller, Amnesty said.
"The Sudanese authorities should ensure that all those still arbitrarily detained are released and no such detentions should happen in the future," Nyanyuki stated. "Sudan should further ensure that torture and all other forms of ill-treatment also do not happen. Several of these detainees were subjected to ill-treatment in detention."
HRW called in particular for a radical reform of Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). "With broad powers of arrest and detention up to four-and-a-half-months, NISS's ill-treatment and torture of detainees is well documented. We have repeatedly documented harsh conditions of extreme heat or cold, beatings, electrocution, verbal, and other abuses," the human rights watchdog said.
"For close to three months, the lives, families and livelihoods of each of the detainees had come to a standstill - just because they peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression." - Amnesty International regional director
Despite Al Bashir's order, hundreds of political activists and students from Darfur are still being held in Sudanese prisons and security detention centres in the country. In addition, dozens of leading members of the Communist Party of Sudan have not been released as well.
According to an opposition leader, Al Bashir decided on the release of the political prisoners in response to appeals from National Dialogue parties, who are currently participating in Sudan's National Unity Government.
Yet, the Sudan Liberation Movement faction led by Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) said that the government has not voluntarily taken this step. "It has done so in anticipation of the visit of the Independent Expert to Sudan to investigate and evaluate the human rights [in the country]," the movement said in a statement on Wednesday.
HRW as well pointed in its statement to the visit of Aristide Nononsi, the UN Human Rights Council's Independent Expert on Sudan, who is supposed to arrive in Khartoum today.
"Al Bashir might hope this move will appease international onlookers, the organisation suggested. "A well-timed prisoner release could help burnish his image."
The human rights watchdog further mentioned Khartoum's "clever politicking on the international stage recently.
"Along with promises to cooperate on counterterrorism and downshift its civil wars, it succeeded in convincing the USA to lift economic sanctions last year," the statement reads.
"In addition, through cooperation with the EU, it received hundreds of millions of Euros for projects to stem migration - support which frankly further empowers the notoriously abusive Rapid Support Forces, who committed grave crimes in Darfur and elsewhere."