Sudan death sentences rise to 82

A special court in Sudan sentenced a further 11 men to death on Sunday. The alleged members of the Darfur-based armed opposition group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), were found guilty of involvement in an attack against the Sudanese government in Khartoum on 10 May 2008. The attack is reported to have killed over 220 people. The sentencing on Sunday brings the number of men condemned to death for the Khartoum attacks to 82. Eleven were sentenced to death on 22 April. Another 10 were sentenced to death on 15 April. The 50 others now under sentence of death were convicted during July and August 2008. Their lawyers appealed in August and they are awaiting the decision of the Court of Appeal. Lawyers representing the men convicted more recently have a week after sentencing in which to appeal. According to local lawyers and human rights activists, the men’s trials were grossly unfair: many had no access to legal counsel until their trials had begun. Many were tortured or otherwise ill-treated and many confessed under torture. The Sudanese government executed nine men on 13 April, who may have been innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. The men were convicted for the murder of newspaper editor Mohamed Taha in 2006. Their confessions were reported to have been extracted under torture. After the executions, Amnesty International said that it remained appalled that the Sudanese authorities continue to apply the death penalty after grossly unfair legal procedures. The organization called upon the government to abolish the death penalty immediately. The JEM’s attack on Khartoum was neutralized by Sudanese forces within hours. It was followed by widespread arrests of Darfuri civilians in Khartoum by the National Intelligence and Security Services. In the months that followed, Amnesty International received reports of extrajudicial executions, hundreds of arbitrary arrests and people being held in incommunicado detention. There were also reports of widespread torture and other ill-treatment for those in detention. Arrests have continued, though in smaller numbers. Many of those arrested have been subjected to enforced disappearance. Anti-Terrorism Special Courts were established on 29 May to try those accused of taking part in the attack on Khartoum. They were set up under the 2001 Counter-Terrorism Act, in the first use of this Act. Setting up such courts contravenes the 2005 Interim Constitution and existing Sudanese law. The use of torture to extract confessions is built into the Sudanese system of justice by Article 10(i) of the Law of Evidence of 1993, which states that “… evidence is not dismissed solely because it has been obtained through an improper procedure, if the court is satisfied that it is independent and admissible.”