Update: Sudanese Women’s rights defender Waad Bahjat in court

The blogger and women’s rights activist who faces a year of imprisonment over a Facebook live video has appeared in court for her third hearing on January 18 in Khartoum. However, the court case was once again postponed and is now scheduled to take place on January 26.

The blogger and women’s rights activist who faces a year of imprisonment over a Facebook live video has appeared in court for her third hearing on January 18 in Khartoum. However, the court case was once again postponed and is now set to take place on January 26.

Last week, Radio Dabanga reported that Waad Bahjat, a social media activist and human rights and women’s rights defender, faces one year of imprisonment over a Facebook video she broadcasted to report on an incident in which several women were harassed by SAF and police officers at a petrol station.

On November 8, when she went out to refuel her car in Khartoum, she noticed soldiers abusing and harassing women lined up in the queue that was designated for women. She also noticed that the women’s queue was not moving forward whilst the men’s queue was moving.

When she asked about the situation, she was told that the fuel station would serve women. Bahjat asked to speak with the manager of the station but officers told her that they were in charge. She then demanded that women should be allowed to refuel their cars, but her plea was rejected and she was insulted by the officers.

After the incident, she shared a Facebook live video in which she talked about the incident and highlighted the discrimination and unequal treatment of the women at the petrol station.

Following the broadcast, she was arrested and detained at the El Imtidad police station where she was subjected to threats and ill-treatment and sustained cuts and bruises on her arms and shoulders.

Bahjat was charged with defamation, insulting a public servant exercising judicial proceedings, publishing false news, and public nuisance according to the 1991 Criminal Act. She was also accused of attacking a police officer and a SAF officer.

Court sessions

Bahjat's first hearing was held on December 3 and her second hearing on January 10. In her second hearing, the court dismissed her of the charges of defamation, insulting a public servant exercising judicial proceedings, and publishing false news. However, the charges of causing public nuisance and using criminal force still stand.

If she is found guilty, she could face up to one year in prison or a significant fine. Bahjat pleaded not guilty and refuted the accusations.

Her third session, in which the activist expects to hear her verdict, was first scheduled on January 14. However, the session was postponed to January 18 as the complainant was absent.

On Monday, Bahjat appeared in court for her third hearing but the session was postponed once more. This time to January 26.

The case of the women’s rights activist has gained attention worldwide. The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies called on the Sudanese authorities to “urgently drop all charges and effectively investigate the allegations of ill-treatment” against Bahjat. The organisation further called on authorities to “guarantee the right to freedom of expression, including online expression”.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders called for “urgent intervention” and appealed to its audience to write to the Sudanese authorities to demand justice. The Observatory also urged the Sudanese authorities to “guarantee the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Waad Bahjat and to put an end to any kind of harassment, including at the judicial level, against her”.

They also explain that her judicial harassment seems to be connected to her legitimate activities as a women’s rights defender. As a blogger, Bahjat writes and publishes about Sudanese women’s rights. She is also a member of a Resistance Committee in Ombadda that is active in Omdurman and frequently organises peaceful demonstrations promoting civil rights in Sudan.

Our Right campaign

The Sudanese campaign group Our Right has renewed its claim that women should represent 40 per cent of the transitional authority. A list of women’s candidates will be submitted to the cabinet in the coming days.

Randa Obeid, the leader of the group, said in a press conference yesterday that women are adhering to their rights outlined in the Constitutional Document and the Juba Peace Agreement. She said women should occupy 11 seats in the Council of Ministers and 120 seats in the Legislative Council.

She explained that the campaign contacted the Central Council of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), the Revolutionary Front, the Prime Minister, and state coordinators, stressing the need to adhere to previously agreed upon commitment. She stated that Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok confirmed his commitment to that condition.

Fellow activist Amira Osman stated that women are able to carry out any task. She stressed that both women and society should adhere to all that has been achieved for women during the transitional period.

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