The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) has expressed its concerns about the safety and well-being of two eastern Sudanese community leaders who are being held incommunicado by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in the Red Sea State capital. In its annual report about the human rights situation in Sudan, the Centre documented numerous abuses against civilians in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur.
Community leaders and activists Hashim Ali and Osman El Bagir have been in detention for close to three weeks without charge or access to their families and/or lawyers, the New-York-based ACJPS reported in a statement on Friday.
Their families have expressed concern for their safety and their vulnerability to torture and ill-treatment, given the well-documented use by the NISS of torture and other forms of ill-treatment against detainees.
On 11 December, the two activists led a peaceful demonstration by members of the Bishareen tribe in protest against activities of a mining company contracted by the government to search for gold in a number of archaeological sites in Wadi El Alagi in Halayeb – an area contested by both Sudan and Egypt.
They were then summoned to NISS offices in Port Sudan, where they were released the same day after having been forced to record statements indicating that they would desist from mobilising protests against the mining company.
Despite the statements, the Bishareen continued to protest against mining activities in Halayeb.
On 17 December, when Ali and El Bagir, accompanied by archaeologists from the Sudanese Antiquities Department, were travelling from Port Sudan to Halayeb, they were intercepted by security officers and taken to NISS offices in Port Sudan, where they are still being held.
ACJPS believes that the detention of the two community leaders is “solely based on their involvement in a peaceful protest calling for the protection of the archaeological sites which fall within the ambit of freedom of expression, association and assembly, rights guaranteed under Sudan’s Interim National Constitution”.
The well-documented use by the NISS of torture and other forms of ill-treatment against detainees, particularly whilst held in unknown locations, gives rise to serious concerns for their safety, the Centre’s statement reads.
“Under the 2010 National Security Act, detainees can be held for up to four and a half months without judicial review. The practice is in breach of Sudan’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in particular the prohibition under Article 5 of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment.
“The incommunicado detention of the two community leaders, alongside other recent incidents of arbitrary detention documented by ACJPS, diverges significantly from the current image projected by Sudan to normalise its relationship with the international community as the United States prepares to review Sudan’s sanctions next month.”
The Centre calls upon the Sudanese government to grant the detainees immediate access to their lawyers and family members, and release them or bring them to a fair trial.
On 2 January, the Centre released its annual report on the human rights situation in Sudan between December 2016-December 2017.
ACJPS expressed its grave concerns about the quasi-total impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of human rights violations documented in the conflict-torn states of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.
The report further points to the many arbitrary detentions and judicial harassment of peaceful protesters and human rights defenders during the civil disobedience campaign in 2016, together with the crackdown on civil society.
ACJPS as well condemns the continued restrictions on the media, on human rights defenders and political opponents, on the freedoms of association and of peaceful assembly, the use of arbitrary detention and torture, the ongoing violations of freedom of religion, and repression of individuals based on their faith.
The Centre urgently calls for “the release of individuals arbitrarily detained by the NISS and urge the Government of Sudan to repeal the repressive National Security Act of 2010, and all other legislation which grants immunities to Government of Sudan agents”.