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Inside Sudan's prisons: Sudanese protesters speak out

Sudan's National Intelligence Security Service, blamed for the arrests and detention of some 2,000 protesters in the past month, are using torture, activists say. 

By Reem AbbasCorrespondent / July 16, 2012



Khartoum, Sudan

The last time Gamal Abdelrahim saw his wife was on July 3, the day that Sudanese government security agents arrested her in her office for her alleged role in street protests against the government that began in June and have persisted for weeks.

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Mr. Abdelrahim went to the Khartoum offices of Sudan’s National Intelligence Security Service to give medicine and clothes to his wife, Nahid Jabralla, a prominent women’s rights activist. She was alive and well then, four hours after her arrest, Abdelrahim says. Since then, however, he has not heard anything about her.

"Some indicators imply that she is in Omdurman Women's Prison in a separate zone completely isolated from other parts of the prison and 100 percent controlled by the Security Organ," he told the Monitor in an e-mail interview. Abdelrahim’s is concerned for his wife’s health: she is due for surgery this month.  

Ms. Jabralla is just one of some 2,000 Sudanese civic activists, students, opposition party members, and journalists who have disappeared into Sudan’s jails and detention centers over the past few weeks in a government crackdown against growing dissent. The current wave of protests were initially sparked on June 16, by anger over government austerity measures, such as cutbacks in subsidies over food, housing, and school fees. Protests have now spread from Khartoum to other cities, and many demonstrators now say they will only stop when the current regime of President Omar Al-Bashir has fallen.

It may not have reached the level of an Arab Spring, but it is a season of discontent that clearly has the Sudanese government worried.

“Instead of responding to the protesters’ concerns, the Sudanese government appears to be targeting select individuals for their presumed political views,” says Daniel Bekele, Africa director of Human Rights Watch. “Sudan should immediately release those detained for engaging in political protests and respect their right to exercise freedom of expression and association.”

Unlike the Tunisian and Egyptian protesters, who swarmed into central chokepoints and shut down capital cities, protesters in Sudan have focused primarily on university campuses, where the protest movement began. Sudan has also received much less news coverage, in part because Sudan has deported several foreign journalists, and restricted the number who can come in to the country.

Harsh treatment backfires for government?

The harsh treatment of protesters – which rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say includes torture – seems to be backfiring. Instead of discouraging more protests, each round of mass arrests and detentions simply sparks another wave of protests. On Monday July 16, some 300 Sudanese lawyers took to the streets in Khartoum to protest the Friday arrests.

The latest batch of arrests – at least 40 women, demonstrators say – occurred on Friday, after a protest organized by a youth group called Girifna. Girifna (the group’s name means “We’re Fed Up”) has been calling for nonviolent resistance campaigns to overthrow the Bashir regime. Last week, they choose to honor Sudanese women, both the female students at the University of Khartoum who started these protests back in mid-June and the mothers of those protesters who have been detained.

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