By Jehanne Henry
October 3, 2013 - In the lead story in yesterday’s Sudan Tribune, President Omar al-Bashir denied that the government was involved in killing scores of mostly young people who participated in protests that raged across Sudan over the past week. Yet evidence collected by groups on the ground indicates otherwise.
Authorities have also refused to investigate the killings – underscoring the need for urgent international action.
The wave of protests started in in Wad Madani, in central Sudan, after al-Bashir announced price hikes that doubled the price of fuel on September 22. The demonstrations spread to other towns, with protesters burning petrol stations and police posts. Government forces cracked down violently, using tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to disperse crowds, killing dozens. Witnesses said armed men in plain clothes, whom they believed were pro-government militia, joined in the killing.
Credible Sudanese groups have reported well over 100 killed since the protests began, though numbers are difficult to verify. A Sudanese doctor’s group announced that at least 210 were dead. Photographs appearing to show victims with gunshot wounds to the head or chest have circulated widely.
For most of Sudan this level of violence against protestors is unprecedented. Except in Darfur, where government forces routinely use live ammunition. (Police in Nyala killed seven protesters, including two children, earlier this month.)
As protesters were being felled in the streets (many in poor, marginalized areas) national security officials were rounding up and detaining hundreds of people including opposition party members, civil society activists, and protesters. The Minister of Interior put the number arrested at 700; Sudanese groups estimate even more are behind bars. The arrests are part of a clear strategy to stifle information that also included censoring newspapers, shutting TV stations, and blocking social media.
Among those detained are dozens of opposition party members including the elderly Sidiq Yousif, civil society activists such as Jaafar Khidr, who is disabled, and Amal Habani, a women’s rights activist who has spoken out against Sudan’s draconian public order regime. Many youth activists, like Mohayid Sidiq, Khalid Omer Osman, and Dahlia al Roubi, were arrested while at home. National security authorities have refused to tell family members where detainees are being held.
It is not yet clear if Sudan’s tactic of killing and repression have ended the protests.
But it is clear Sudan is again committing serious human rights violations, sure to fuel more anger. International actors – especially the African Union – should firmly condemn the violence and insist on a credible investigation into the killing.
The author is a senior researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Africa division