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US concerned over al-Mahdi’s arrest as NUP prepares for Friday demonstrations

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May 22, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – The United States embassy in Khartoum issued a statement on Thursday expressing concern over the detention of former prime minister and head of the National Umma Party (NUP), al-Sadiq al-Mahdi.

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A female supporter of former prime minister (1986-1989) and now head of the National Umma Party (NUP), religious leader al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, rally in Khalifa Square in Sudan’s twin capital of Omdurman on 29 June 2013 (Photo: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

The embassy noted president Omer Hassan al-Bashir’s initiative earlier this year calling for comprehensive national dialogue among all political powers, including rebel groups if they lay down arms.

"In his 27 January 27 and 6 April 2014 calls for a national dialogue, president Bashir publicly pledged to increase freedom of expression. We urge the Government of Sudan to honour its public pledges as the Government initiates an inclusive national dialogue," read the statement.

"We urge the Government of Sudan to respect the fundamental human right to freedom of expression of all Sudanese citizens as enshrined in article 39 of Sudan’s 2005 Interim Constitution".

Al-Mahdi was arrested last week, days after he was called for questioning by state prosecutors over statements he made accusing the Sudan’s paramilitary unit known as the Rapid Support Force (RSF) of committing abuses against civilians in Darfur and Kordofan regions.

The opposition figure was released on his personal recognizance but repeated his position afterwards prompting the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) to add his new remarks to their original complaint.

The prosecutors said that as a result they filed new charges under articles 50 and 62 of the penal code and noted that article 114 of the Criminal Procedure Code mandates that anyone charged under these two articles must be detained.

Those charges are punishable by death, life imprisonment, prison terms ranging from a few months to several years and confiscation of money.

Sudan Tribune has learned that Sudanese authorities declined to grant permission to NUP supporters to stage a demonstrations following Friday prayers.

But NUP sources say they expect their supporters to ignore police directives with a potential of clashes.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is part of the Sudanese cabinet, on Thursday condemned for the first time the arrest of al-Mahdi, saying it has "poisoned" the national dialogue process.

Hatim al-Sir, a leading DUP figure and a former presidential candidate for 2010 elections, said al-Mahdi’s arrest is not without political motives even if under legal and security cover.

He held the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) full responsibility for the repercussions of the continued detention policies, violation of rights and confiscation of freedoms.

Al-Sir said that the situation in the country cannot tolerate this behaviour and requires the regime to undertake positive initiatives if it wants real peace.

The government and parliament warned that criticism of uniformed units is a "red line" and could amount to treason.

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.

Al-Mahdi had argued that the Sudanese security apparatus violates the constitution by establishing militias even though its mandate is limited to gathering and analysing intelligence.

(ST)

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