May 17, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – The National Umma Party (NUP) today announced that it has suspended its participation in the national dialogue process and called for mobilization following the arrest of its leader al-Sadiq al-Mahdi by Sudanese security.
- Opposition Umma Party leader and former Prime Minister Al-Sadiq Al Mahdi speaks during joint news conference with Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir (R) after their meeting at Mahadi’s house in Omdurman August 27, 2013 (REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)
Al-Mahdi’s personal secretary Mohammed Zaki told reporters that a police force accompanied by personnel in civilian clothes arrested his boss on Saturday night and took him to an unknown location.
The dramatic development comes days after the opposition leader appeared for questioning before state security prosecutors to respond to a criminal complaint filed by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in light of remarks al-Mahdi made accusing Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of committing serious abuses in conflict zones in Darfur and Kordofan including rape as well as looting and burning villages.
But al-Mahdi defiantly reiterated his allegations to RSF and noted that his remarks were based on factual information he obtained from sources in the region as well as from records of 220 police complaints filed by the locals in the towns of El-Obeid and Abu-Zabad in North Kordofan state.
The former Prime Minister came under fire from Sudanese lawmakers this week who said his remarks amount to treason and belittling the armed forces.
The RSF militia, which is widely known as the Janjaweed militias, were originally mobilized by the Sudanese government to quell the insurgency that broke out in Sudan’s western region of Darfur in 2003.
The militia was activated and restructured again in August last year under the command of NISS to fight rebel groups in Darfur region, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states following joint attacks by Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebels in North and South Kordofan in April 2013.
Sudanese officials say the RSF is part of the NISS but operationally follow the army.
Earlier today, al-Mahdi lashed out at the NISS before a rally in al-Halaween area of al-Gezira state insisting that he will not back down from these accusations.
He condemned the NISS complaint against him saying "Rather than [us] complaining against them, they rushed to lodge a complaint against us".
The NUP chief noted out that the Sudanese security apparatus violates the constitution by establishing militias even though its mandate is limited to gathering and analyzing intelligence.
He described the NISS as an "ostrich" Mahdi emphasizing that in the past it used to be above criticism but that this is no more the case.
Al-Mahdi said that his party proceeded with what he described as "the quiet revolution" and said the regime has two options only, either face a popular uprising or engage in national dialogue that leads to dismantling it. He underscored that their immediate demands are freedom, justice and peace without which there is no agreement.
"We will not go into the next stage [of national dialogue] without ensuring the provision of the deliverables required…so as not to become a laughing stock," al-Mahdi said.
Al-Ansar sect, the religious arm of the NUP, said in a brief statement that al-Mahdi’s arrest is a provocative step to their supporters across all Sudan.
The newly appointed NUP Secretary General Sara Nugdalla read the decision of the Supreme Coordination Council suspending dialogue with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and calling for mobilization of supporters in all parts of Sudan.
Sati’ al-Haj, one of al-Mahdi’s lawyers, said that an arrest warrant was issued for his client from state security prosecutors over the NISS complaint adding that he was charged with undermining the constitutional order and opposing the regime.
These charges carry the death penalty if indicted, al-Haj said adding that authorities allowed a number of defense lawyers to meet with al-Mahdi at the Kober prison in Khartoum.
Opposition parties issued a joint statement today calling on authorities to immediately release and al-Mahdi, affirming that the move reflects the lack of seriousness on the part of the government regarding national dialogue.
The Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel group made a similar call in a separate statement.
The Reform Now Party (RNP) headed by former Bashir adviser Ghazi Salah al-Deen al-Attabani warned against serious repercussions as a result of al-Mahdi’s arrest that could undermine the dialogue and said those behind it are worried that their interest will be jeopardized if the dialogue succeeded.
The government’s decision to arrest the leader of Sudan’s opposition party will likely inflict heavy cost on the ongoing national dialogue process called for by president Omer Hassan al-Bashir earlier this year.
Last January, Bashir called on political parties and armed groups to engage in a national dialogue to discuss four issues, including ending the civil war, allowing political freedoms, fighting against poverty and revitalising national identity.
He also held a political roundtable in Khartoum last month with the participation of 83 political parties.
The opposition alliance of the National Consensus Forces (NCF) boycotted the political roundtable, saying the government did not respond to its conditions.
The NCF wants the NCP-dominated government to declare a comprehensive one-month ceasefire in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. In addition it has called for the issuing of a general amnesty, allowing public freedoms and the release of all political detainees.
Al-Mahdi’s party is one of the major opposition parties to agree to join the dialogue process amid major division in the NUP base which started viewing their leader suspiciously believing he is seeking rapprochement with the NCP.
This month the NUP SG Ibrahim was forced out after al-Mahdi urged the Central Commission to sack him saying he failed to build a consensual secretariat.
But al-Amin lashed out publicly against al-Mahdi telling Sudan Tribune that he is working along with his eldest son Abdel-Rahman towards an alliance with the NCP.
Abdel-Rahman was appointed as Bashir’s assistant in December 2011 causing an outcry within the party.
Despite initially distancing himself from Abdel-Rahman al-Mahdi’s decision to take up a position as president Bashir’s assistant, al-Mahdi later praised his son’s qualifications to fill the role.
Al-Mahdi has been critical in recent years of opposition umbrella movement the National Consensus Forces (NCF), of which his party is a member, publicly questioning their ability to remove the regime.