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African Centre: ‘Urgent concern for detainees held incommunicado in Sudan’

December 18 - 2016 NEW YORK

According to the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) at least 37 people are currently being held at National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) headquarters near the Shendi Bus Station in Khartoum North. They are being held without charges or access to their families or lawyers.

In a report on Thursday, ACJPS states that it is particularly concerned about four other people who are being detained by the NISS in unknown locations. This includes activist Fatima Mohamed Ahmed, members of the Pharmacists’ Association, Arif Awad and Mahmoud Mohamed Abdallah, as well as El Shazali Mohamed Abdallah, member of the Khartoum Teacher’s Strike Committee, who the NISS has denied having in their custody, despite reports that he was detained from his home in Omdurman on 26 November.

The detainees in Khartoum North include 17 members of the political opposition Sudanese Congress Party (SCP) who were detained between 4 and 9 November when they publicly denounced the government’s new austerity measures.

In addition to the detention campaign, NISS officers seized print-runs of newspapers from different media houses, including traditionally pro-government newspapers, in efforts to block all public discourse regarding civil disobedience actions against the government’s economic policies and the concomitant detentions.

A private television station, Omdurman TV, has been forced to close, and between 6 November and 6 December, seven newspapers, including four which are traditionally seen as being pro-government, were not allowed to distribute their printed copies 27 times in total. The print-runs of El Jareeda newspaper were confiscated seven times during this period, the ACJPS report reads.

The African organisation further states that a lack of access for lawyers and family members to the detainees, together with 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.

“We call upon the Government of Sudan to grant the detainees immediate and unequivocal access to their lawyers and family members, and release them in the absence of valid legal charges consistent with international standards.”

Under the 2010 National Security Act (NSA), detainees can be held for up to four and a half months without judicial review. ACJPS views the detention of the group to have no legitimate legal basis, and to be based solely on the peaceful expression of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

Background

The arrests and seizures of newspapers come during a renewed civil disobedience campaign protesting anti-austerity measures in the country instituted in early November. The austerity measures have increased fuel prices by up to 30 per cent, and drastically increased prices on basic commodities in the context of widespread poverty and corruption.

The family of student and activist Fatima Mohamed Ahmed has not received any information from the NISS despite inquiring about her whereabouts.

ACJPS further states that “A huge amount of government spending is allocated in the national budget to finance Sudan’s wars in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile. Fluctuations on the government set exchange rate regarding pharmaceutical supplies have led to a huge increase in prices of medicines”.

A strike organised by the Sudanese Doctors’ Central Committee culminated in the detention of at least 14 doctors, who were also held incommunicado at NISS headquarters near Shendi Bus Station, in varying dates in early November.

The group was later subsequently released on 22 November 2016. The strike, which began on 6 October, was in response to concerns over the physical safety of doctors working in hospitals, grievances concerning pay, working conditions, and inadequate funding for medical equipment. Doctors only performed life-saving and emergency services during the strike.

Criminal charges have also been levelled against individuals engaged in peaceful demonstrations. On 29 November, seven female activists and members of the “No to Women’s Oppression Initiative” were arrested outside the home of the first Sudanese Prime Minister, Ismail El Azhari, in Omdurman, where they had conducted a silent peaceful sit-in protest and held signs condemning the austerity measures. The group was charged under articles 69 (disturbance of public peace) and 77 (public nuisance) of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code, and released a few hours later on bail. There is no update on the status of their charges.

In the past, mass civil disobedience campaigns have been met with widespread repression by Sudanese authorities, the ACJPS says. Sudanese authorities responded with a violent crackdown to large-scale protests that swept the country following the announcement of austerity measures in September 2013, with security forces and armed men allied to them using live ammunition, tear gas and batons.

As many as 185 protesters and other civilians were killed, most of them shot in the head or chest, ACJPS and Amnesty International found in a joint study published in September 2014. Hundreds were injured and more than 800 others arrested, with some held for weeks. Human Rights Watch research showed that many detainees were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and that many journalists and human rights defenders were beaten. Female protesters were also sexually assaulted by security forces.

The press has been subjected to repeated censorship under the Press and Publications Act of 2009 and by the NISS using its powers under the NSA 2010. The NISS has restricted the media through blacklisting, prosecuting and harassing journalists, subjecting journalists to repeated summonses and threats of prosecution, detaining journalists, and making threatening visits or telephone calls to editors ordering them not to report outside of “red lines” determined by the government. In an emerging trend since 2013, traditionally pro-government newspapers have also been censored.

Censorship is often ramped up around key events with post-print censorship, whereby entire print runs of daily editions are confiscated prior to morning distribution, at great cost to newspapers, which along with other forms of harassment and intimidation enforces self-censorship as editors are unable to afford to publish opinions that might result in the print run being confiscated. Authorities also tightened restrictions to prevent coverage of the nationwide anti-austerity protests in 2013, and again in April 2015, to prevent coverage of an elections boycott by opposition parties.

The ACJPS report further lists activists and political opposition leaders who are currently held incommunicado, and were detained on the following dates. Except where noted, they are all currently held at NISS headquarters near the Shendi bus station without charge or access to their families and lawyers.

4-9 November: At least 17 SCP members were detained in Khartoum, following public calls by the party for peaceful demonstrations against the implementation of austerity measures.

On 29 November, all printed copies of El Ayaam, El Jareeda, El Tayaar, and El Youm el Tali were confiscated by the NISS.

22 November: The following political opposition party leaders were detained following calls from the NISS on the evening on 21 November to report to the Political Department of the NISS in Khartoum North: Siddig Yousef and Tarig Abdelmajid, members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Sudan, Munzir Abulmaali, member of the Unionist Nasir Party, Mohamed Diaa Eldin, member of the Ba’ath Party and the National Consensus Forces.

24 November: Fatima Mohamed Ahmed, student and activist, was detained by the NISS from the El Kalakla district in Khartoum. Her family has not received any information from the NISS despite inquiring about her whereabouts.

Teachers Mohamed El Dei Bushara, and Ismail (second name not given) were arrested from the National Umma Party (NUP) headquarters in Omdurman after they attended a meeting of the Teachers’ Committee on a possible strike. Amar Yousef, another teacher and a member of the Communist Party appeared on 24 November at the NISS headquarters in Khartoum North after being summoned. He was ordered to report back the following day but did not do so. NISS agents are still searching for him.

26 November: The Teachers’ Committee organised a second meeting at the NUP headquarters in Omdurman concerning a potential strike. ACJPS reports: that the following eight people were arrested from the meeting: Sida Mohamed Sharif, Omar Anan Muhyieldin, Muntasir El Fadhi, Abdelmajid Bashir, Hamad Younis, Mawia Abdelrazeg, Siddig Tawour, and Abdelrahman El Mahdi.

Teacher El Shazali Mohamed Abdallah was arrested from his home in Omdurman by the NISS the same day. His location remains unknown. The NISS has denied that he is in their custody.

27 November: Hatim Al Daak, Bahaeldin Ahmed El Haj, and El Tayeb Bukhary, all three members of the Pharmacists’ Association were arrested from their homes in Khartoum.

29 November: Jalal Mustafa, University Professor and a member of the Sudanese Congress party was arrested by NISS agents from his home in Khartoum.

1 December: Arif Awad and Mahmoud Mohamed Abdallah, members of the Pharmacists’ Association were detained in front of the Pharmacists’ Association headquarters after making public calls for the release of their colleagues detained on 27 November 2016. Their whereabouts are unknown.

7 December: prominent Sudanese human rights defender Dr Mudawi Ibrahim and his driver, Adam El Sheikh, were arrested from the University of Khartoum, where Dr Ibrahim is a professor.

Accountant Nora Obeid remains detained incommunicado without charge at the NISS headquarters in Khartoum North.

His family only learned of his arrest when NISS agents searched their family home later that evening, and they were not formally notified of the arrest until five days later. Ibrahim is being held incommunicado at the NISS headquarters near the Shendi Bus Station, without charges and access to their families and lawyers. The whereabouts of El Sheikh have not been confirmed.

Ibrahim’s brother, Awadallah Ibrahim Adam was also briefly detained the day after the arrest of Dr Adam. Nora Obeid, an accountant at Ibrahim’s Lamda Engineering Company, was taken from outside their offices on 13 December, reportedly after she updated her Facebook status with #FreeAdamElSheikh. She remains detained incommunicado without charge at the NISS headquarters in Khartoum North.

Press curbs

On 27 November, the private television station, Omdurman TV, was forced to close following a decision by the Sudanese Radio and Television Broadcasting Company to cancel the station’s license.

The cancellation is believed to be linked to statements made by Hussein Khojaly, the owner of the station, on the channel’s broadcast mentioning the suffering of the Sudanese people in connection to the austerity measures. The channel broadcasts in three states in Sudan, and has been active over the course of the last six years.

On 6 November, the NISS prevented the independent newspapers El Ayaam and El Jareeda, and the traditionally pro-government newspaper El Tayaar from distributing printed copies. No rationale was given.

On 29 November, Muzamil Abulgasim, editor-in-chief of the traditionally pro-government El Youm El Tali newspaper, was informed by the Gamari Publication and Distribution Company that they would no longer provide funding for advertisements in the newspaper, after being ordered to do so by the NISS.

On 28 November, the NISS seized the print-runs of El Ayaam and El Jareeda newspapers without providing a reason.

On 29 November, all printed copies of El Ayaam, El Jareeda, El Tayaar, and El Youm el Tali were confiscated by the NISS.

On 30 November, the NISS prevented El Ayaam, El Jareeda, El Tayaar, El Youm el Tali, and El Watan, a traditionally pro-government newspaper from distributing printed copies. No rationale was given.

On 1 December, the NISS prevented El Midan, traditionally affiliated with the Communist Party of Sudan, El Jareeda, El Tayaar, El Youm El Tali, and El Watan, daily newspapers in Khartoum from distributing printed copies

On 2 December, the print-runs of El Watan and the traditionally pro-government El Sayha newspapers were confiscated.

On 3 December, the print-run of El Sayha was seized again.

On 4 December, the copies of El Midan and El Jareeda were confiscated.

On 6 December, the NISS confiscated the print-run of El Midan newspaper.

On 7 December, the NISS confiscated all copies of El Jareeda newspaper for the fifth time in two weeks. Again no rationale was given for the confiscation, ACJPS reported.


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