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Video report reveals what happens inside secret prisons in Sudan

Sudanese presidental guards secure the area during a speech by President Omar al-Beshir in El-Fasher, north Darfur on 23 July 2008. [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images]
Sudanese presidental guards secure the area during a speech by President Omar al-Beshir in El-Fasher, north Darfur on 23 July 2008. [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images]

A BBC investigation revealed the subjection of Sudanese activists and demonstrators opposed to the current regime to blatant human rights violations during their detention, as well as the security forces’ use of torture methods that do not leave torture marks on their bodies.

The investigation identified several in-kind places where these violations have been carried out, according to an analysis of photos, videos, and testimonies of several former detainees who confirmed such criminal practices, which the authorities have denied.

The investigation explained that (dramatic) videos and photos documented by demonstrators in Sudan revealed the existence of masked security officers, chasing the protesters and beating them, and then taking them to secret detention centres.

The investigation described the security officers as the “death squads”. The investigation also identified the detention centres where the security forces have been taking the demonstrators, and what has been happening inside them. BBC Africa Eye analysed dozens of tragic videos that were filmed during the recent uprising, as well as testimonies collected from former survivors from torture.

Sudanese protesters,effected by tear gas, cover their faces during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Khartoum on 6 January, 2018 [Stringer/Anadolu Agency]

Sudanese protesters,effected by tear gas, cover their faces during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Khartoum on 6 January, 2018 [Stringer/Anadolu Agency]

According to the investigation, some of these protesters confirmed the existence of a secret and frightening detention facility called “refrigerator” where cold is used as a tool to torture detainees.

The video investigation showed clips of a group of soldiers and secret agents as chasing protesters in the streets of Khartoum, putting bags on their heads after arresting them, while beating them and then dragging them to secret detention centres, where they detain them without any charges, and in some cases, they subject the protesters to severe torture.

The investigation pointed out that the Sudanese activists have an extreme fear of the “death squads” teams, which the investigation later explained who they are, how they carry out their missions, and what happens inside these detention centres.

The investigation also noted that the Sudanese uprising started in December 2018, as people have been protesting against the increase in fuel and food prices. However, the demonstrations have quickly turned into a revolution against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.

Read: Sudan releases journalists and arrests professors as protests rage on

The BBC’s investigation added that the demonstrators chanted slogans inspired by the Arab Spring demonstrations in 2011, for example: “The People Want to Overthrow the Regime”, while the government responded with violence. Videos have documented casualties by the fire of the security forces, which used live ammunition against the demonstrators.

According to human rights groups, security forces have killed more than 50 citizens.

The investigation also revealed that the “death squads” or beating teams have not only been clearing demonstrations and dispersing Sudanese protestors, but dozens of Sudanese protesters have also filmed them as they were kidnappings many of them.

The investigators said they had analysed about 200 videos that were documented by protesters’ cameras during the protests. To protect the persons who filmed the videos, the places where they were taken have not been mentioned, and the investigation instead used the footages to show the security officers as they were carrying out their tasks.

The video showed a crew of members of the “death squads and mentioned that each team consists of about six men, who mostly use white Toyota minivans, and sometimes use vehicles with either removed or covered metal license plates.

The investigation added that some of “death squads” members were wearing military uniforms and others were in civilian clothes. Also, many of them were wearing masks and carrying various weapons ranging from automatic rifles to plastic tubes used to beat demonstrators.

Protests in Sudan – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

According to BBC’s investigation, Sudanese activists describe plainclothes individuals as low-level thugs hired by national intelligence, security forces or the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service.

The video also showed soldiers wearing military uniforms, blue-clad police and plainclothes agents, all of whom were working together, as well as white pickup trucks and an easily recognisable building, which is the Kalakala Police Station in the south of Khartoum.

The investigation stated that this video clip, along with photos of these men who appeared in the video and testimonies by Sudanese activists lead to clear conclusions that individuals wearing civilian clothes are part of the government forces.

The investigation revealed the way these agents, who wear civilian clothes, carry out their missions, saying that they have been deployed by the authorities since December to clear streets from demonstrations.

The investigation indicated that the video was documented by demonstrators being shot at by agents dressed in civilian clothes.

The investigation revealed that these individuals are working around a specific block of housing units to confront the demonstrators. It was noticed that those agents in civilian clothes stand at the front of the rows, while another man wearing a red uniform stands in the back, as shown in the video.

Meanwhile, from a corner, another person recorded the same team, i.e. the man in the red uniform and the other man at the front of the row, shooting at the demonstrators.

According to the investigation, the disguised agents not only controlled the protesters or crowds, but also targeted them in the streets or houses, and assaulted them severely, then dragged them into cars.  From that moment on, the arrested demonstrators disappeared.

However, the fate of the protesters, who get arrested by the members of the death squads, is still unknown. The only available information is that some of them are taken to a secret facility south of the Asia Hospital.

The investigation revealed how the secret detention centre was discovered. Thus, on 11 January, a citizen published a photo on social media, claiming that the location indicated in the picture is a detention centre run by the Sudanese security forces.

Since the 1990s, local activists have been nicknaming these detention facilities as the “ghost houses” because people forcibly disappear and get tortured there.

The BBC investigation showed that the captions of the detention centre, which the news agency obtained, indicated that the facility is located near the Asia Hospital, according to one of the detainee’s testimony.

Eight other witnesses confirmed that they were being held in Abu Mina near the Asia Hospital, including five witnesses who said they were beaten and tortured to the point of becoming unable to walk. Some of them broke their arms while trying to avoid the beatings of their interrogators in the detention room, which was covered with blood.

The detention centre, located near the Asia Hospital, is not the only one. As such, two sources reported that these facilities are investigation centres where detainees are interrogated and classified.

Read: Sudan’s protest movement is revolutionising youth culture

Many of the activists who pose a threat to the regime are being transferred to larger detention centres in Khartoum, near the Shendi Bus Station. According to one witness, no one can get near the area having a telephone or a camera.

However, seven former detainees sent pictures, taken from Google Maps, and identified the locations where they were incarcerated, describing these places as torture centres run by the Sudanese government.

One of the sources mentioned the most gruesome details, pointing to a place called “the banana refrigerator”. He explained that the temperature in some cells in this building was kept very low as a method of torture, as torture with cold leaves no traces on the body.

A detainee said in his testimony that “it is freezing in there and it becomes unbearable after 15 minutes… I was kept in one cold cell for a whole night and a few hours the next day.”

Sudanese protesters attend an anti-government demonstration in the capital Sudan on 20 January 2019 [STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images]

Sudanese protesters attend an anti-government demonstration in Omdurman, Sudan on 20 January 2019 [STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images]

Another arrested protester also testified: “I was very scared and afraid of dying. The cell was cold and isolated. I thought these were the last days of my life. They hit me hard. I have never felt as cold as those days. If I waited there until the morning, I would have been dead by now. Torture and beating are much better than staying in this place. ”

The cold cell is not a new technique of torture as confirmed by one oppositionist, who stated that he was held in a cold cell in 2009, where the detained activists are also subjected to torture, sleep deprivation, and were subjected to extreme psychological pressure.

On the other hand, when the Sudanese authorities were asked about these allegations, the government’s spokesman denied the existence of such detention centres and confirmed that no one has heard of the cold detention cells or the refrigerators before.

He asserted that the Sudanese law prohibits the physical abuse or torture of detainees, and that police officers are not allowed to chase demonstrators in narrow streets or their homes.

The spokesman added that these accusations cannot be proven and that in case they are true, then such practices have to be criminalised.

He also claimed that the demonstrations were not entirely peaceful, as some demonstrators carried arms. Therefore, police officers were often defending themselves.

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