Sudan: State sponsored assault on freedom of expression around elections
Sudanese men look at newspapers displayed at a kiosk in the capital Khartoum on February 16, 2015. Sudanese security officers seized the print runs of 13 newspapers in one of the most sweeping crackdowns on the press in recent years, Journalists for Human Rights said. (Photo credit ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images)
Sudan’s ongoing election period has been characterised by state sponsored human rights violations with dissent violently suppressed and political opposition figures subjected to arbitrary arrest, Amnesty International said.
Sudan went to the polls from 13-15 April in the country’s first election since the south ceded from the north in 2011, although final results have not yet been announced.
This election was meant to mark a brighter future for Sudan’s citizens, but instead it has been blighted by a wave of repression coupled with an appalling lack of accountability.
“Activists, the press and political opponents of the government have all been targeted, and the role of the state in this assault on freedom of expression cannot be underestimated. Rather than protecting and promoting the rights of its people, the Sudan government is targeting and silencing them. The Sudan authorities must live up to its human rights obligations and commitments, end continuing violations and act swiftly and decisively to hold those responsible for human rights violations to account.”
Amnesty International has documented arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, allegations of torture and ill-treatment and violent dispersal of public rallies since Sudan’s election period started on 24 February.
Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and police appear to have carried out many of these violations with total impunity. Opposition politicians and activists have been especially targeted during the election period
Two newspaper print runs were confiscated by NISS last week as suppression of freedom of expression persisted following the election.
Muzzling the press
According to reports received by Amnesty International, NISS warned all newspapers editors against publishing any articles that shed a negative image on the elections or the reported low voter turnout. They were told they should instead highlight the positive aspect of the election at all times.
Newspapers that resisted the warnings were punished. On 15 April, NISS confiscated the Al-Mijhar Al-Siyasy newspaper print run for publishing negative election related articles. On 18 April, copies of Al-Yaum Al-Tali newspaper were also confiscated because it reported on the enforced disappearance of political activist Sandara Farouk Kadouda.
Activists under attack
Sandara, an activist and doctor, was abducted by suspected members of the NISS on 12 April. She was found three days later in a Khartoum street having been badly beaten. On 20 April, NISS agents went to Sandara’s home and detained her friend/colleague Dr Galal Mustafa Mohamed Yusuf.
Dr Jalal, a prominent member of the opposition Sudanese Congress Party (SCP), was on the phone to Sandara at the time of her abduction and reported the incident to police the following day.
Amnesty International believes he may be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.
In North Darfur, students at Al Fasher University held a protest on 14 April calling for a boycott of the presidential elections and a change of government. Police and NISS arrested and charged 20 students over the demonstration. They showed marks of severe beating and their clothes were stained with blood on the first day of their detention. They are currently awaiting trial.
In total at least 30 political activists have been arrested across the country during the election period.
These also include Nasreldin Mukhtar, a member of Darfur Students Association at the Holy Quran University in Omdurman, who was arrested in Omdurman on 19 April. His whereabouts remain unknown.
Crackdown on freedom of assembly
During the elections and in the weeks leading up to the elections, Amnesty International received numerous reports of violations on freedom of assembly by police and NISS.
2 April: Local authorities in Al Nihoud in West Kordofan State cancelled without justification an SCP public event aiming to publicize its boycott of the election.
26 March: NISS prevented opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) from holding a public event at Omdurman Islamic University.
12 March: Police in North Kordofan forcefully prevented National Umma Party (NUP) members from organising a public event. Police arrested 50 party members and closed the party’s office.
28 February: Police forcefully dispersed a meeting of opposition parties in Dongloa, the capital of the Northern State. Many participants were seriously injured.
Amnesty International has learned that excessive force to disperse public events by opposition parties was common.
Applications by opposition parties to organise public events were repeatedly rejected by the authorities, who said that only political parties participating in the elections were allowed to hold public events during the election period.
There is a clear and ongoing pattern of violently suppressing dissenting voices.
“Sudan must put human rights at the top of its agenda in order to break the country’s cycle of violence and impunity. The government must initiate investigations into allegations of human rights violations during the elections, including the abduction of Sandra Farouk Kadouda.”