The Sudanese authorities should stop harassing civil society activists and allow them to work without arbitrary interference and intimidation, DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) said in a report today.
On 29 February this year, the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) raided the office of TRACKs for Training and Human Development in downtown Khartoum.
TRACKs is a Sudanese organisation that provides training on a variety of subjects, from information technology to human rights. The organisation was raided before, in March last year, during a workshop on social responsibility.
After the recent raid, NISS agents required TRACKs staff and visitors who were in the office at the time of the raid, to report to security offices repeatedly, for long periods. The security agents have confiscated their passports, and subjected them to inhumane treatment, the report reads.
“We are extremely concerned about the ongoing and worsening pattern of targeting activists, organisations and human rights defenders by national intelligence in Sudan,” said Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders and Mossaad Mohamed Ali, Executive Director of APCJS.
On 29 February, plain-clothed NISS officers entered the offices of TRACKs without a warrant, and held all staff and visitors in the office while they confiscated electronics and documents.
“They took all of our laptops, phones, publications, and books, and forced us to disclose the passwords for our phones and computers. One of my colleagues did not hand over his phone and was beaten with a folded newspaper because of that,” a staff member told ACJPS and DefendDefenders after the raid. “They threatened us with prosecution for working on human rights and said they were going to close the office.”
Mukhtar, the director of TRACKs, Office Supervisor El Shazli Ibrahim El Sheikh, and the Director of TRACKs’ partner organisation, Alzarqaa Organisation for Rural Development, Mustafa Adam, were detained and taken to NISS offices in central Khartoum. Adam and El Shazli were released after 11 pm that day while Mukhtar was held until after midnight.
Six others present at the time of the raid were ordered to report to the NISS offices on 3 March, including a trainee who had arrived early for an IT training session later that evening and a visiting artist.
Five out of the six reported to the NISS on 3 March together with the two directors and the office supervisor who had been detained on the day of the raid. The group was split into two and was ordered to report to the NISS offices on alternating days from 3 March until 12 March. Members of the group were often forced to sit in intensely hot areas for long hours. On one occasion, Al Shazli, who is diabetic, fainted as a result of the severe heat and lack of food.
On 10 March, TRACKs Administration Manager Arwa Ahmed El Rabee was also summoned. When she returned for questioning on 12 March, she was beaten on the head with a folded newspaper, and threatened with electric shocks if she would not disclose the whereabouts of TRACKs volunteer Imani Raye, who was later summoned to the NISS office for questioning.
The staff and visitors to TRACKs are no longer being summoned daily, however, they have been ordered to remain close to their telephones. The organisation has been largely paralysed by the confiscation of the equipment and lengthy questioning of their staff.
Director Mukhtar has been instructed to obtain authorisation from the NISS before holding any activity at the office. The office remains under close surveillance by NISS officers, outside in a vehicle.
‘Crimes against the state’
TRACKs was raided previously, on 26 March last year, by NISS officers, armed with guns, who accused participants in an ongoing training session on social responsibility of discussing a boycott of the upcoming general elections.
The organisation’s staff and affiliates were summoned and interrogated on a number of occasions by the NISS after the raid.
Human rights defender Adil Bakheet, whose laptop was confiscated during the raid, was summoned three weeks later, on 16 April, and charged with seven criminal offences by the State Security Prosecution Office. These included two “crimes against the state” under the 1991 Criminal Act that carry the death penalty.
TRACKs director was summoned on 21 May, charged with the same offences, and released on bail later the same day. Adil Bakheit was held in police custody for 17 days before his release on bail.
On 24 February this year, five days before the next raid, Mukhtar was informed by the State Security Prosecution Office of an intention to drop all charges owing to a lack of evidence.
DefendDefenders and ACJPS “strongly urge the Sudanese government to end its harassment of TRACKs and its staff, and allow civil society organisations to operate without fear of persecution and prosecution”.