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Sudan detains political activists and human rights defenders to silence criticism

(10 December 2014) Sudan has detained two prominent public figures on their return from political negotiations held in Addis Ababa between Sudanese political and armed opposition groups. A large number of personnel from the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), arriving in six vehicles, arrested Dr. Amin Mekki Medani, (m), 76 years of age, and Farouq Abu Eissa, (m), 78 years of age, from their homes in Khartoum just before midnight on Saturday, 6 December. Although their families were not informed of the reasons for the arrests, the men were detained after signing the “Sudan Call” on 3 December in Addis Ababa. The “Sudan Call” is a political document that commits signatories “to dismantle the one-party state regime and replace it with a state founded on equal citizenship through daily popular struggle”. Dr. Amin Mekki Medani, a prominent member of civil society and human rights lawyer, signed the document on behalf of a group of civil society actors. Mr. Farouq Abu Eissa, 78 years of age, signed on behalf of the Sudanese Consensus Forces – an umbrella of political opposition parties – in his capacity as Chairperson of that group.

There are serious concerns for the health and safety of the two men who are detained in unknown locations and have been denied visits from their families and lawyers. Both men are in their seventies and have specific medical needs. Dr. Medani suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes for which he has prescribed medication. The NISS reportedly prevented him from taking his medication with him on his arrest. Mr. Abu Eissa suffers from diabetes. Their detentions are thought to be connected solely to the peaceful expression of their political beliefs.

In the early hours of Sunday, 7 December, Dr. Farah Ibrahim Mohamed Alagar, (m), 60 years of age, was arrested by the NISS from his home in Alfitihab neighbourhood of Omdurman. Dr. Alagar had also attended the Sudan Call negotiations in Addis Ababa but had not signed the resulting document. Around 10 members of the NISS reportedly arrived at his home at 1am and took him to their offices in Khartoum Bahri without providing reasons for his arrest. He has been denied visits from his family and lawyers. Dr. Alagar is a retired officer from the Sudan Armed Forces and was formally the chairperson of the National Congress Party (NCP) in Blue Nile state. He was dismissed from the ruling party in December 2012, reportedly because he expressed views diverging from the official NCP line, including on the possibility of power sharing in Blue Nile state between the NCP and Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N). He was later engaged in April 2014 as an independent conflict resolution expert by the SPLM-N to attend ongoing peace talks in Addis between the SPLM-N and the Government of Sudan.

Pattern of detentions and politically motivated charges

These high profile detentions follow a pattern of detentions – and prosecutions – that appear aimed at silencing political opposition and criticism of the policies of the ruling party. The past six months have seen scores of political and youth activists, as well as prominent human rights defenders, detained. Youth activist Ibrahim Al-Safi was sentenced to one month imprisonment on 4 December after he was arrested and beaten by police for attending a public talk by Girifna on the need for law reform in Sudan and distributing leaflets on law reform.

Recent months have also seen a worrying emerging trend towards the prosecution of owners and employees of private printing firms to restrict the printing and distribution of independent material deemed critical of the ruling party. Human rights defender Rashid Sheikh Eldeen Abash was released on bail on 8 December after being charged with a number of serious criminal offences. He is accused of using his printing firm to print posters commemorating the deaths of over 100 people killed by Sudanese authorities during protests in September 2013. Abash, who was detained for 11 weeks without charge before his release on bail, is also well-known for his outspoken opposition to the construction of dams in Sudan’s Northern state. The charges against Abash follow criminal charges issued in Al Damazin, Blue Nile state, against four people in connection with the printing and distribution of a statement by the Blue Nile sector of the Sudanese Communist Party, marking the anniversary of Sudan’s 1964 “October Revolution”. The four defendants are awaiting trial, having been charged with a number of criminal offences, including article 50 (undermining the constitutional system), a crime that carries the death penalty under the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code.

These cases raise serious concerns about increasing restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly in Sudan and the routine application of broad and vaguely worded offenses to censor perceived critics of the ruling party.

Case of Ibrahim Al-Safi

Youth activist Ibrahim Al-Safi is currently serving a one month prison sentence after being convicted on 4 December, without legal representation, of criminal offences related to disturbance of the public peace and the dissemination of false information. He was arrested by police on 2 December after attending a public talk convened by Girifna concerning the group’s “Your Law is Invalid” campaign that calls for the reform of laws that restrict human rights. People attending the talk at the bus station in Khartoum’s Central Station were chased by the police, who also seized copies of Girifna leaflets concerning the law reform campaign. He was reportedly beaten during his arrest, and his head was forcibly shaved by prison officers at Omdurman prison before his transfer to Dabak Prison in the Al Jaili neighbourhood of Khartoum. The judge presiding over the case on 4 December reportedly informed Al-Safi that he needed to obtain permission from the authorities prior to distributing Girifna leaflets concerning the campaign for law reform. The youth-led movement Girifna – which identifies itself as “a non-violent resistance movement to over-throw the NCP” – has reported increased harassment of their members in recent weeks, including threatening phone calls from members of the NISS. Numerous members have been forced to flee Sudan in the past few years following their arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of the NISS.

Case of Rashid Sheikh Eldeen Abash

Human rights defender Rashid Sheikh Eldeen Abash was released on bail on 8 December after being charged with a series of serious criminal offences including charges under Part VII (sedition) of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code. He was charged under the instruction of the Prosecutor of Crimes against the State in Khartoum after being detained without charge by the NISS for 11 weeks prior in Kober prison.  Abash was initially detained by the NISS on 23 September during a wave of detentions which saw scores of activists detained by the NISS from the streets, cafes and private homes of Khartoum to stop the organisation of memorial events for over 100 people killed by Sudanese security forces the year before. Abash, who is 35 years of age, is a known human rights defender who heads the youth committee to resist the building of two dams in Dal and Kajbar in Northern State. He is also the owner of a printing company in Khartoum. He was detained on 23 September after being summoned by the NISS to secure the release of his employees who were arrested during a raid on his premises the same day. The charges against him are connected to allegations that his printing shop was used to print posters for planned memorial events for people killed in September 2013.

The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) is concerned that Abash is at risk of a politically motivated and unfair prosecution related to his work in defence of human rights and public criticism of Government policy. He was permitted just two family visits during his 11 weeks and there were reports that he had been subjected to ill-treatment in custody.  He is charged under Articles 21 (joint acts in the execution of criminal conspiracy), 63 (calling for opposition to public authority by use of violence or criminal force) and Article 69 (disturbance of public peace) of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code. Article 63 carries a prison term of up to three years and/or a fine and Article 69 carries a prison term of up to three months, or a fine, or up to 20 lashes. He was also charged under Article 15 (d) of the Sudanese Artistry Bookmarks Law which prohibits the export, import, publishing, printing and distribution of any artistry that contradicts with the general policy of the state or national security. ACJPS considers that all charges against him should be dropped as they are related solely to his work in defence of human rights and the peaceful expression of views critical of government policy. All allegations of ill-treatment perpetrated against him should be investigated immediately and his fair trial rights guaranteed.

Al Damazin Communist Party Statement Case

Four people in Al Damazin, Blue Nile state, were arrested between 22 October and 2 November in connection with the printing and distribution of a statement by the Blue Nile sector of the Sudanese Communist Party, marking the anniversary of Sudan’s 1964 “October Revolution”. The statement, which called for regime change as a solution to address the problems faced by Sudan, condemned the application of emergency laws and restrictions on fundamental human rights and freedoms in Blue Nile state, and was distributed to mark the anniversary of the 1964 popular uprisings that led to the downfall of Sudan’s first military government. Those charged include members of the Communist Party of Sudan as well as the owner of the printing and photocopying business alleged to have printed the statement.

They have been charged under articles 21 (Joint Criminal acts in Execution of Criminal Conspiracy), 50 (Undermining the Constitutional System), 63 (Sedition – Calling for Opposition to Public Authority by use of Violence or Criminal force), 66 (Publication of False News) and 69 (Disturbance of Public Peace) of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code. Article 50 carries the death penalty. The defendants – Mr. Adil Keryazi, 60 years of age; Mr. Adil Fadulalmula, 55 years of age; Mr. Ibrahim Musa, 40 years of age; and Mr. Suiam Ali Osman – are awaiting a trial date set for 16 December.

Sudan should guarantee peaceful expression of political beliefs

ACJPS calls on the Government of Sudan to cease the harassment and prosecution of political activists, human rights defenders and other public commentators such as journalists and bloggers for peacefully expressing, printing or distributing their peacefully expressed political views. The Government of Sudan should guarantee all fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in the Interim National Constitution of 2005 and all human rights treaties to which Sudan is a state party and:

  • Immediately guarantee the safety of Dr. Amin Mekki Medani, Farouq Abu Eissa and Dr. Farah Ibrahim Mohamed Alagar, disclose their whereabouts and grant access to their family members, lawyers and any medical assistance they may require. Their immediate release should be ensured in the absence of valid legal charges, or if charges consistent with international standards do exist, they should be promptly brought before a judge and guaranteed procedural rights at all times.
  • Immediately release Ibrahim Al-Safi whose prosecution appears politically motivated and whose trial failed to meet international standards. Al-Safi was sentenced to imprisonment without legal representation. Allegations of ill-treatment, including beatings by the police during his arrest, should be promptly investigated.
  • Release and drop the charges against Adil Keryazi, Adil Fadulalmula, Ibrahim Musa, and Suiam Ali Osman in Blue Nile state, and Rashid Sheikh Eldeen Abash in Khartoum, because the charges appear to be politically motivated and aimed at threatening or punishing the peaceful expression of criticism of the government.
  • Immediately investigate all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment against Rashid Sheikh Eldeen Abash. If he is brought to trial, the authorities must ensure his rights to a prompt and fair trial that meets international standards.
  • Reform the National Security Act of 2010 in line with international human rights standards, as well as other legislation, including the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code and 1991 Criminal Procedure Act, to enable the full exercise of these freedoms as guaranteed in the 2005 Interim National Constitution and international law commitments made by Sudan.

Contact: Mohamed Badawi (English and Arabic), ACJPS Human Rights Monitoring Programme Coordinator, in Kampala, Uganda on +256783693689, email: info@acjps.org