Amira Osman, Sudanese Women’s Rights Activist, Reportedly Detained In Raid

Amira Osman, a well-known Sudanese activist who advocates for women’s rights, was detained in a raid on her house in the capital of Khartoum, her sister Amani said. Osman was reportedly taken by armed men in the middle of the night, continuing the pattern of activists, pro-democracy figures, and members of civil society who were arrested after the military takeover in October 2021. Osman is the head of the No to Oppression of Women initiative, which was created in 2009 after a female Sudanese journalist was arrested for wearing pants. The initiative works to defend women’s rights through organizing campaigns to support women impacted by gender inequality in Sudan. The organization was integral in the 2018-2019 Sudanese revolution, which ended the repressive 30-year rule of Omar al-Bashir.

Osman’s sister described the abductors, likely members of the Sudanese General Intelligence Service, as armed men with automatic rifles and batons who identified themselves as drug control officers, despite providing no proof to substantiate this claim. Amani “woke up to the sounds of banging on the doors and rooms in the house,” she said. “[Her] mother had a breakdown and the children were screaming and terrified.”

The incident has drawn condemnation from within Sudan and abroad. The United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan was “outraged by [the] arrest of women’s rights advocate Amira Osman overnight,” it said in a tweet. “Amira’s arrest & pattern of violence against women’s rights activists severely risks reducing their political participation in Sudan, we call for her release […] Authorities must respect [the] right to freedom of assembly.”

Hala Al-Karib, the regional director for the Women in the Horn of Africa Network, also cited concern for Osman’s “current weak health,” which Al-Karib said could put her in even more danger.

The blatant disregard for Osman’s health, safety, and rights is highly concerning. Her abduction under the cover of night, without any charges being brought against her, demonstrates that the security forces expect to not be held accountable. The international community must combat this expectation by using its resources to draw attention to Osman’s detainment. If her detainment is made international news, the Sudanese security forces will be deterred from harming her or keeping her detained under pretenses. This strategy has worked before; in 2018, a Sudanese woman named Nora Hussein had her death sentence (given to her after she fatally stabbed her much older husband as he attempted to rape her) overturned after an international outcry.

Sudan has a complicated history when it comes to women’s rights. As of 2021, Sudan allows women to hold positions in government and travel freely without being accompanied by or obtaining permission from a male relative, and the 1991 Public Order law, which allowed those who commit indecent acts or wears indecent clothing to be fined, flogged, or both, was repealed by the new government almost immediately after the revolution. However, the controversial 1991 Muslim Personal Law Act is still in effect; along with dealing with marriage and divorce codes, the law states that women must obey their husbands. The Personal Law Act also makes puberty the legal age of consent, a policy that human rights activists both domestically and abroad have criticized for years. Sudan’s new government, installed after al-Bashir’s deposition, has puzzlingly prioritized improving women’s rights (like through the repeal of the Public Order Law) while blatantly ignoring the other measures advocated by Sudanese women’s rights activists.

While Osman’s detainment may seem like it has no further implications for the nation’s peace as a whole, the fact that she was detained because of her work advocating for women’s rights exposes the underlying issue of repression by the state. Furthermore, because her detainment is only the latest in a long string of detainments and arrests, it illustrates the impunity with which Sudan’s security forces are acting, which certainly has negative implications for the safety of the nation’s activists and citizens. To create true peace for all Sudanese citizens, not just those who do not speak out against the government or its policies, detainments like Osman’s must end.

Taylor McElwain