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US praises Sudan’s move to free political prisoners

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April 2, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - The United States on Tuesday hailed yesterday’s announcement by president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir that the government intends to release all detainees currently being held on political grounds.

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A political prisoner from Kober prison in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, greets a relative following his release in the early hours of April 2, 2013 (ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images)

The US embassy in Khartoum issued a statement today confirming the release of an “initial group of detainees who appear to have been held on political grounds”.

It further said that Bashir’s call for dialogue with all forces was particularly pleasing.

The Sudanese president extended the amnesty in a speech delivered at the opening session of parliament, saying his government is committed to inclusive dialogue with all groups, regardless of their political affiliation.

Bashir did not say when, and how many, prisoners would be released in his speech to parliament on Monday.

It is also unclear whether the president’s decree would include rebel fighters and high-level officials currently on trial for plotting a coup to overthrow the government.

Amnesty International has expressed skepticism about the announcement, saying the prisoner amnesty “barely scratches the surface”.

“Freeing seven political prisoners does not indicate the government is truly serious about ending arbitrary detention and releasing prisoners of conscience,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa programme director, said.

According to Amnesty, of the seven political prisoners released overnight on Monday from Khartoum’s Kober prison, six were prominent members of opposition political parties that participated in signing the New Dawn charter earlier this year in Uganda, which called for military action to topple the existing government.

This included leader of the Islamic Wasat party Yousif al-Koda, Brigadier Abdel-Aziz Khalid from the National Sudanese Alliance, Hisham al-Mufti from the United Democratic Unionist Party, Intisar al-Aqli from the Socialist Unionist Nasserite Party, as well as Mohamed Zein al-Abdeen and Abdel-Rahim Abdullah from the Democratic Unionist Party.

Youth activist Hatim Ali Abdalla, who has been detained incommunicado since his arrest on 24 March after taking part in a peaceful demonstration at the Khartoum Bahri Teaching Hospital, was also among the group released.

Yesterday Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) secretary-general, Yasser Arman, blasted Bashir’s announcement as “old milk in a new bottle”, saying the National Congress Party (NCP) leader’s pledge lacked credibility.

“The only new thing is that the general is going to release some of the political detainees while keeping the same laws that detained them and that can detain them again or detain others,” he said in a statement on Monday.

Arman says there are currently more than 600 prisoners in detention whose whereabouts remain unknown, including at least 240 from the Nuba Mountains, as well as an unspecified number from Darfur and other places.

According to Amnesty, more than 118 people are reportedly in arbitrary detention in relation to the conflict in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, including women detained without charges and being held in custody with their infant children.

In addition, a number of individuals remain on death row for their involvement in armed opposition. None of their sentences were commuted.

Rights groups say political prisoners in Sudan are routinely held in detention for indeterminate periods without trial and are often denied access to their families, legal representation and medical care.

According to Amnesty, Sudanese authorities continue to resist calls to repeal the 2010 National Security Act, which provides agents of the security services with wide reaching powers of arrest and detention.

(ST)

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