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Sudan releases 2,400 protesters amid US condemnation of crackdown

A Sudanese protester flashes the victory gesture as he stands atop a gatehouse while others chant slogans and wave the flag of the opposition Umma Party led by Sadiq al-Mahdi, during a demonstration in the capital Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman on 25 January 2019 [AFP/Getty Images]
A Sudanese protester flashes the victory gesture as he stands atop a gatehouse while others chant slogans and wave the flag of the opposition Umma Party led by Sadiq al-Mahdi, during a demonstration in the capital Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman on 25 January 2019 [AFP/Getty Images]

Sudan announced that it had released some 2,430 protesters from custody yesterday, as US officials warned that the violent crackdown on demonstrators threatens Sudan’s removal from Washington’s terror blacklist.

The semi-official Sudan Media Centre (SMC) quoted judiciary sources as saying that 2,430 of the 2,650 detained protesters have been released so far, with some set to face further legal action. Demonstrations have rocked Sudan since December, initially against austerity measures and political autocracy, but broadening to calls for regime change and the departure of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.

Despite the demonstrations’ peaceful nature, security forces have responded with violence; rights groups say more than 50 people have been killed and hundreds injured. Students in particular have been detained en masse, with many claiming they have been forced to confess to being part of a terror cell.

However Al-Bashir has vowed to stay in power, stressing that the current demonstrations are the result of a foreign conspiracy.

The release of protesters comes after Sudan’s Prime Minister, Motazz Moussa, met with special aide to the US president and the top adviser for Africa at the National Security Council Cyril Sartor earlier this week, to discuss strengthening bilateral ties.

During the meeting, Sartor reportedly warned the prime minister that Sudan’s continued crackdown on protesters could jeopardise efforts to remove the country from a blacklist of countries sponsoring terrorism.

Read: Sudanese fruit seller dies choking on tear gas fired at protesters

“It is absolutely unacceptable for security forces to use excessive violence to crack down on demonstrators, to use detention without charge, certainly unacceptable to use brutality, torture … and needless to say there’s no reason anyone should be killed,” Sartor told the AFP at the end of his visit, stressing that the ongoing process “which could eventually lead to the lifting of state sponsors of terrorism designation… is being threatened by the current developments.”

Khartoum has been lobbying for many months to be delisted, which impacts the country’s international reputation and investment projects; the state is particularly looking to benefit from debt relief and international development aid barred while it remains on the list.

“We have been quite clear, quite explicit … with all the government leaders that I have met with that the current conditions in Sudan and the overreaction of the security forces in particular put the talks at risk,” he concluded.

The comments came just days after Sartor stressed that “no external solutions will be imposed on Sudan”, reiterating the need for the US and Sudan to work closely.

More protests are planned for later today, with the Sudan Professional’s Association, an umbrella organisation of trade unions spearheading the demonstrations, calling on the public to take part in a mass rally from downtown Khartoum towards the Presidential Palace. They renewed their commitment to peaceful protest, stating that the demonstration would be led by opposition leaders for the first time, and would demand Al-Bashir steps down.

On Tuesday, Sudan’s Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said the police will act resolutely against anyone who seeks to destabilise security and threatens people’s lives and property.

Read: Sudan lawmakers postpone amendment to keep Bashir in power

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