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African Centre calls for fair trial for convicted Darfuri student

July 17 - 2016 NEW YORK
Darfur students discussion corner (ACJPS)
Darfur students discussion corner (ACJPS)

Darfuri student Mohamed Baggari, who has been convicted of murder, faces death by hanging after an unfair trial, based on a confession he made without legal representation, says the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS).

The case relates to a violent clash in April 2015 between members of the Darfur Students’ Association (DSA) and the Islamic Students’ Movement at the Sharg El Nil College in Khartoum.

In a press release on Friday, the ACJPS “condemns the use of the death penalty in all its forms and is especially concerned that the right to a fair trial was not upheld in this case”. 

Unchecked violence on Sudan’s university campuses by pro-government student militias, often supported by or with the acquiescence of regular government forces, has led to scores of violent student deaths in recent years, the ACJPS states. The Sudanese government should urgently investigate the presence of armed student militias and weapons stores on university campuses and put in place measures to protect students from armed attacks.

Mohamed Baggari was convicted of killing Mohamed Awad, Secretary-General of the Islamic Students’ Movement at Sharg El Nil College, during a fight on the University campus in Khartoum Bahri on April 29 2015. Around noon on that day, militant student members of the Islamic Students’ Movement (the student wing of the Islamic Movement within Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, the NCP) armed with metal bars, wooden batons, and whips, violently broke up a public meeting convened by the DSA.

The meeting was convened to discuss cultural events planned by the DSA, as well as threats posed by members of the Islamic Students’ Movement. Members of the DSA initially repelled the attackers by throwing bricks; however, the armed militias returned shortly after and a fight ensued.

“The Sudanese government should urgently investigate the presence of armed student militias and weapons stores on university campuses and put in place measures to protect students from armed attacks.”

According to eyewitness accounts, Mohamed Baggari was surrounded and beaten with metal bars by four armed students, including Mohamed Awad. Awad was stabbed and later died in hospital. Four members of the Darfur Students’ Association, including Baggari, also sustained serious injuries after being beaten with metal bars, and were admitted to El Baraha Hospital in Khartoum Bahri overnight, the ACJPS reports.

On 5 May that year, agents of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) arrested Baggari, still suffering from head injuries sustained during the incident on April 29, in his home in Omdurman. He was later transferred to the criminal investigation unit of the police force in Khartoum.

Baggari was denied access to a doctor and detained incommunicado for six days before his first visit from a lawyer and his brother on 11 May. He confessed to stabbing Awad before a judge on 14 May during a hearing in which he did not have any legal representation.

Fair trial

ACJPS points in its report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ (ACHPR) Rights Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, that clearly set out that the essential elements of a fair hearing include “an entitlement to consult and be represented by a legal representative or other qualified persons chosen by the party at all stages of the proceedings” and the right to be examined by a doctor,.

The regional body, that interprets state obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Sudan is a State Party, also sets out in the Principles and Guidance that, “any confession or other evidence obtained by any form of coercion or force may not be admitted as evidence or considered as probative of any fact at trial or in sentencing. Any confession or admission obtained during incommunicado detention shall be considered to have been obtained by coercion”.

Baggari was initially convicted of “semi-intentional homicide” under article 131 of the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Code, as it was accepted he had acted in self-defence. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment and the payment of blood money. Baggari’s lawyers appealed the sentence, and the Khartoum North Appeal Court ordered a re-trial, instructing Khartoum Criminal Court to consider all mitigating circumstances to the crime of murder set out in article 131, which includes self-defence, a threat of death, grave provocation, and “a sudden fight” without premeditation.

At the re-trial on 23 June 2016, Khartoum North Criminal Court found Baggari guilty of murder under 130 of the Criminal Act. The court rejected his arguments of self-defence and did not consider any other mitigating circumstances. He was sentenced to the death penalty, implemented by hanging in Sudan, at a court hearing on 28 June, after family members of the deceased called for death by retribution (qisas) rather than imprisonment or blood money (diya), punishments provided under article 130 (murder) of Sudan’s Criminal Code.

'Jihadist Unit'

According to the ACJPS, the violence at Sharg El Nil College on April 29, 2015 was not an isolated incident but rather part of a pattern of attacks by student militias affiliated to Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) on other students considered to hold views in opposition to the ruling party. Students hailing from Darfur, including members of various DSA branches, have been especially targeted by the violence.

According to eyewitness reports from April 29, 2015, members of the Islamic Students’ Movement obtained weapons from the “Jihadist Unit”, an office and weapons store on campus that is used by members of the Islamic Movement. Such Jihadist Unit weapons stores are thought to exist on all major University Campuses. Members of the NISS arrived on the scene but did not intervene to stop the violence.

ACJPS is not aware of any official investigation into the armed attack by the Islamic Students’ Movement on the peaceful DSA forum. There has similarly been no accountability for past violence and excessive use of force by student militias and government forces against peaceful student demonstrators and public forums held on university campuses across Sudan.

The Government of Sudan should also order a prompt, thorough an impartial investigation into the violence at the Sharg El Nil College on 29 April 2015, including allegations that a peaceful DSA forum was disrupted by armed student militias, with a view to bringing all perpetrators to account. The Government of Sudan has a responsibility to protect all students at risk of violence on university campuses and as a first step should investigate and seize all weapons held in weapons stores or elsewhere, the ACJPS states.

The African Centre further calls on the Sudanese government to uphold the right to a fair trial and ensure procedural rights for accused persons at all times, including all guarantees set out in the ACHPR Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa. The denial of medical care and prolonged incommunicado detention, in addition to the failure to ensure access to legal representation at all stages in proceedings, raises serious concerns about the right to a fair trial in Bagari’s case.

Intimidation continues

The climate of violence and intimidation faced by students not affiliated to Sudan’s ruling party and the total impunity enjoyed by pro-NCP student militias operating on university campuses throughout the country has persisted in 2016, the ACJPS report reads.

On April 22 this year, militant pro-NCP students armed with metal bars and pistols, fired shots in the air and violently dispersed students gathered inside the main campus of the University of Kordofan in El Obeid, North Kordofan. The students had gathered to present a list of non-NCP candidates for the Student Union elections. Around 40 students sustained injuries after being beaten with metal bars, and were transferred to El Obeid Hospital.

Abubakr Hassan Taha, student at the El Obeid School of Engineering, died as a result of gunshot wounds. According to eyewitnesses, members of the police arrived on the scene but did not intervene to protect the students or conduct arrests. To date, there has been no investigation into the violence on campus or into the killing of Taha.

Just a few days later, on 27 April, militant pro-NCP students, armed with pistols and metal bars, attacked a public forum being held by the Nuba Students’ Association on the campus of Omdurman Ahlia University in Khartoum. The students had gathered to discuss protests being held at universities in Khartoum and North Kordofan the same month. One member of the Nuba Students’ Association, Mohamed El Sadig, was shot in the chest and died on the scene from his injuries. Another student was hit over the head with a metal bar. The NISS reportedly arrived on the scene but did not intervene to protect the students, or make any arrests, according to the ACJPS.

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