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Sudan security forces increasing attacks on medical services treating protesters

Sudanese security forces intervene protestors who were marching towards the Presidential Palace during a demonstration demanding the restoration of civilian rule in Khartoum, Sudan on 2 January 2022 [Mahmoud Hjaj - Anadolu Agency]
Sudanese security forces intervene protestors who were marching towards the Presidential Palace during a demonstration demanding the restoration of civilian rule in Khartoum, Sudan on 2 January 2022 [Mahmoud Hjaj - Anadolu Agency]

On the afternoon of 30 December, security forces banged on the windows of Khartoum Teaching Hospital then fired tear gas into an emergency room packed with protesters injured in a nearby demonstration.

"We were around the corner trying to hide, it came right past our heads," said a nurse who asked to withhold her name for fear of retribution. "We couldn't breathe and had to rush out."

Attacks on medical facilities seen during an uprising in Sudan three years ago have re-emerged during rallies against an October coup, deepening anger among the protest movement and further straining a chronically under-resourced health system.

The coup ended an agreement between the military and major political parties to share power following a 2019 uprising that toppled Omar Al-Bashir after three decades of autocratic rule.

Continuing violence against demonstrations could complicate efforts to resolve a standoff between military leaders and a large protest movement that wants civilian rule.

Hundreds of protesters have been injured since the coup, mainly from live gunshot and tear gas canisters, and at least 63 have died, according to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD), a medics' union aligned with protesters.

Military leaders justify their coup as saving Sudan from chaos and have said they will protect the right to peaceful protest. In a statement on Saturday, the Khartoum State security committee expressed regret at the "violations" of hospital grounds and committed to providing high-ranking officers inside facilities to monitor any breaches.

Assaults on medical facilities have centred on hospitals which lie along main protest routes and routinely treat injured protesters.

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Near Khartoum Teaching Hospital, security forces have repeatedly tried to disperse protesters and chase them down side streets as they march towards the presidential palace, about 1.2 kilometres away.

Khartoum Teaching Hospital has been attacked with tear gas three times, said its director Dr. Elfatih Abdallah.

"This is immoral, inhumane, and not acceptable at all," he said, pointing at a circular dent in the wall caused by a tear gas canister.

Patients and their friends and relatives have also been assaulted and arrested inside the hospital, and security forces have chased protesters into wards, said deputy hospital director Emad Mamoun.

Asked for comment, a police official who requested not to be named said: "We do not assault any doctors and doctors are well-respected by us as we consider them colleagues. We do not assault citizens as our role is to protect them."

Medics say it is not always clear which part of Sudan's security apparatus is responsible. They say that even when security forces do not enter the hospital, tear gas is often fired nearby, making it difficult to work.

CCSD has accused security forces of besieging hospitals and blocking the entrance and exit of ambulances during protests.

On Sunday, medics marched in lab coats to submit a report to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights documenting more than 20 alleged incidents of security forces impeding medical care across the country since the coup.

The attacks caused the caretaker health minister to submit his resignation, though colleagues later persuaded him to stay.

While the security presence at protests on Sunday was lighter than usual, witnesses said they saw tear gas fired once more near Khartoum Teaching Hospital.

During a visit to the hospital to show solidarity with medical staff, Norwegian Ambassador Therese Loken Gheziel said attacks would impede the international community's engagement with authorities.

"Trust has to be rebuilt, people need to see justice, and the violence has to stop. Then we can facilitate consultations," she said.

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