Sudan Releases Political Activists Imprisoned After Deadly Protests Last Month

In February, Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir ordered the release of 80 protesters and opposition activists, who were detained in January for protesting against rising food prices. Salah Gosh, Sudan’s head of the National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS), told Sudanese media that the remaining detainees would only be released if the opposition parties promised to stop organizing protests. The exact number of the detainees is unknown, but according to opposition sources there are at least 90 people still detained. The families of the detainees demand the Sudanese presidency to intervene and protect the constitution and monitor performance of the security services.

The European embassies in Sudan welcomed the release and called on Khartoum “to promptly release the remaining political detainees.” The embassies maintained that Khartoum should also “guarantee press freedom and freedom of assembly for peaceful demonstrations.” The remaining political detainees have no access to lawyer or family visits, which put them at risk of abuse. Many of the prisoners are elderly and suffer medical conditions. Some released detainees reported long interrogation procedures and denial of medical treatment. The NISS security agency is known for ill-treatment and torture of detainees, particularly of detainees held in unknown locations. It also holds the power to arrest individuals for up to four and a half months without judicial review.

Sudan’s government should guarantee the physical safety of all detainees and grant them immediate access to their lawyers, medical service and family members. Jehanne Henry, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch said: “Sudan’s tactic of silencing dissent through mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and violations needs to stop. The world should know that, despite Sudan’s release of some protesters as the cameras rolled, dozens of activists remain hidden behind bars in limbo without access to their families, lawyers, or due process.”

At the beginning of the year 2018, Sudan experienced widespread demonstration, called “bread protest,” following the government’s decision to cut subsidies for basic commodities and ending the import of wheat from overseas, pushing up the price of bread. The decision was part of a far-reaching austerity measure implemented by the Sudanese government within the country’s 2018 budget, which seeks to solve the spiraling inflation rate. Sudan’s economy is still suffering from the loss of oil when South Sudan seceded in 2011. Sudan has devalued its currency twice this year and cut some subsidies. In January, inflation surged to 52.4 percent, which represents the fastest price growth since the 1990s.

Since the release of the budget, peaceful protest erupted in a number of Sudanese states leading to the murder of a high school student and detention of hundreds of opposition activists across the country. Sudanese rights groups estimated that more than 130 people were detained during marches that were organized by the National Umma Party and the Sudanese Communist Party in Khartoum and Omdurman on January 16 and 17. The arrests were ordered by President Omar al-Bashir, who said: “We will continue to eradicate the reasons behind the protest and arrest.”

Sudanese rights groups recommend that the government should engage in dialogue with the opposition to end the armed conflict and economic crisis destroying the country. Henry rightly said that “instead of silencing critics, Sudan should engage with them to find solutions for these fundamental and persistent problems in its governance. The route of repression will only breed more abuses and destruction of the rule of law.” The families of the detainees demand the Sudanese presidency to intervene and protect the constitution and monitor performance of the security services.