Sudan holds hundreds without charge after 10 May attack

The Sudanese government is holding hundreds of people without charge or access to lawyers, following the armed attack on Khartoum by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on 10 May. The government is preparing to try another 109 individuals arrested in relation to the 10 May attack. The fate and whereabouts of most of those still detained remain unknown. There have also been reports of torture and other ill-treatment from people who were released. Amnesty International fears that those people still detained are at high risk of torture. According to reports received by Amnesty International, those still held include women and a nine-month-old child. These fears come after eight alleged JEM members were sentenced to death by hanging by Sudan’s Anti-Terrorism Special Courts on Sunday 17 August. Amongst the eight is a senior JEM commander. Another 12 alleged members of the same group were given the same sentence on 20 August 2008. This last verdict takes the numbers of individuals sentenced to death in relation to the 10 May attack to 50. “Sudan’s Anti-terrorism Special Courts are nothing but a travesty of justice,” said Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Programme Director for Africa at Amnesty International. “Some of the people sentenced only met their lawyers for the first time during the trial, while several said they suffered torture when they were held incommunicado and that they were forced to confess to crimes.” “Those trials were clearly unfair and now Sudan is preparing to try yet more people with this system. How is that justice?” One of the lawyers of those convicted on 17 August told Amnesty International that his request for an investigation into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by his client was rejected by the court. This included an appeal for a medical examination despite the fact that, according to the lawyer (?) marks of ill-treatment were still clearly visible on their bodies when the accused were facing the judge. The defence lawyers have appealed all the 38 verdicts within the limited period allowed by the Special Courts. The final decision – expected in the next few weeks – has to be taken by the Special Court of Appeal. Thereafter, the President will have to sign the decision for the executions to be carried out. “The Sudanese government has the duty to investigate crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice but they must do it in accordance with international law and the Sudanese constitution, which guarantees fair trials,” said Tawanda Hondora. “We urge the Sudanese authorities not to execute these men and to review their cases immediately.” Amnesty International has also urged the Sudanese authorities to reveal the whereabouts of all individuals held in the context of the 10 May investigation, and to either promptly charge them or release them immediately. The organization has also called for all detainees to be given regular access to lawyers and family and to be provided with the appropriate medical attention. Background The 10 May attack marked the first time a Darfur-based armed opposition group had reached the capital since the start of the conflict in 2003. In the weeks following the attack, hundreds of individuals were arrested by Sudanese police and security forces. The majority of those arrested are of Darfurian origin. Amnesty International received reports that extra-judicial executions occurred during the waves of arrests. In July, the Sudanese president, Omar Hassam El Bashir, announced that he was releasing 87 alleged child soldiers who were accused of having taken part in the attack. At the end of July, the Special Courts convicted and sentenced another 30 individuals to death. They were found guilty of criminal offences in relation to the 10 May attack. The Anti-Terrorism Special Courts were established on 29 May specifically to try individuals accused of participating in the 10 May attack. The articles under which individuals have been charged and convicted include articles of the 1991 Penal Code, the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act and 1993 Weapons and Ammunition ordinance. The 17 August verdict is the fourth issued by the Special Courts.