May 25, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese presidency on Sunday refused to issue directives for the release of the National Umma Party (NUP) leader, al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, declaring that it would not interrupt the legal course.
- Sudanese First Vice President Bakri Hassan Saleh (AFP Photo/Ashraf Shazly)
It pointed to the need for completing the ongoing investigations with al-Mahdi, underscoring its commitment to national dialogue as a strategic choice.
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 Sudanese First Vice President, Bakri Hassan Saleh, met on Sunday with leaders of the opposition parties that are taking part in the national dialogue following their call for the immediate intervention of the presidency to release al-Mahdi in order to create an environment conducive for dialogue.
The leaders of the six political forces also called for removing restrictions on public freedoms, saying it is impossible to start the dialogue before releasing the NUP chief.
According to a press statement issued by the presidency, Saleh promised to consider the opposition’s request to meet with al-Mahdi in accordance with the law.
The statement pointed that Saleh told the opposition leaders that the NUP leader was arrested due to legal procedures and it is necessary to wait until completing the investigation and then considering the next step.
“Institutionalism and commitment to the law are among the most important elements for maintaining and protecting Sudan’s unity”, he added
He underscored the government’s respect and adherence to public freedoms, saying they will not abandon them as long as they are being practised responsibly and ethically.
Saleh also noted that president Omer Hassan al-Bashir’s initiative for national dialogue reflects the strategic orientation of the government, affirming the need not to criticize the regular forces as they represent the safety valve for the country.
“Maintaining authority and morale of the regular forces are imperative for any successful national dialogue”, he said.
Leaders of the opposition parties said in statements following the meeting that the arrest of al-Mahdi and restrictions on freedoms of expression and press hinder the national dialogue, expressing hope that the government removes those obstacles.
The representative of the Reform Now Party (RNP), Hassan Osman Rizg, told reporters following the meeting that government’s recent actions including arrest of university students and political leaders, suspension of al-Saiha newspaper and threats made by the information minister to suspend more newspapers besides preventing peaceful protests and publication of corruption cases of government officials, have left negative consequences locally and abroad.
He pointed out that those government measures would delay or completely stop the national dialogue, saying it put the opposition parties which agreed to participate in the dialogue in a critical position in the face of the other parties which refused to join the dialogue and enhanced the latter’s claim that the government is only “manoeuvring” and not serious about dialogue.
Rizg further said what they brought up in the meeting with the 1st VP does not represent stipulations but observations, adding that he expressed understanding for the opposition stance.
“We agreed to find a solution in order to continue the dialogue in a smooth manner”, he added
He added that the future of the dialogue is contingent upon removing the obstacles, saying the dialogue mechanism will meet within a couple of days to discuss the next steps.
The RNP official said the suspension of the NUP participation in the national dialogue casts negative shadows on the dialogue’s atmosphere.
The secretary general of the Arab Socialist Nasserite Party, Mustafa Mahmoud, said the recent developments have negatively impacted the trust atmosphere, pointing that al-Mahdi’s arrest hinders the national dialogue.
He added that they told Saleh that certain groups within the government are standing against the political dialogue, saying the 1st VP promised to take this observation into consideration and remove any obstacles facing the dialogue.
Mahmoud said the ball is now in the court of the presidency, stressing that dialogue can’t move forward in atmosphere of “repression and tyranny”.
NUP DETERMINED TO BOYCOTT THE NATIONAL DIALOGUE
Meanwhile, the NUP renewed the call for releasing its leader and ending the “play of the criminal and legal custody”.
It reiterated in statement issued by the party’s supreme committee on Sunday the decision to suspend participation in the national dialogue in protest of al-Mahdi’s arrest.
The statement denied press reports pointing to continuance of its participation in the national dialogue process or existence of dialogue with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).
“These reports are untrue altogether. The NUP withdrew from the national dialogue. We warn against any attempts to falsify the will of the party and its members who stopped participation in preparatory procedures of the dialogue of the NCP and its accompaniments following the arrest of their leader”, it read.
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 revitalizing 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.