Thursday, September 6, 2018

Blogpost: on the challenges of finding medicine in Sudan

Najla Norrin has owned and operated a pharmacy in a working-class neighborhood in Khartoum for over ten years, but 2017 was her worst year in business.

The pharmacist and business owner has struggled to stock her pharmacy due to price hikes and has been unable to find medicine needed for chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and mental illness.

“I can only buy medicine in small stock because pharmaceutical companies are only accepting cash from us and even with this, I am struggling to sell what I have as the prices have increased between 100% to 300%,” said Norrin.

Sudan’s currency has steadily plummeted since South Sudan’s secession in 2011 as the country was dependent on oil revenues from its Southern region. On the eve of secession, Sudan lost 75% of its revenues from oil.

For the next few years, the country tried to stabilize its economic situation through selling and leasing agricultural land to investors as well as taking generous grants and loans from China and Arab countries. The money that flowed into the country was not enough to save its economy and the Sudanese pound (the SDG) lost an annual 10% to 20% of its value each between 2011 and 2016.

In November 2016, the medical field was hit by a storm. At that time, pharmaceutical companies, the only entities permitted to import medicine into the country, were able to purchase hard currency from the Central Bank of Sudan at $1 equals 8 SDG. At the time, the price of the SDG to a dollar was double that in the black market.

“The new price we received from the bank in late 2016 was 14 SDG to $1 which meant that medicine prices went up by 100%, but just a few months later, they wanted to hike up the price to 21 SDG to $1 which led to an outcry from our side” said a senior staff member at one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country who wished to remain anonymous.

Things quickly went downhill and the pharmaceutical council had to intervene and hold talks with the pharmaceutical companies and the government. As a result, 100 medicines were recognized as critical and they would be purchased using the old price and all other medicines would be purchased using 21 SDG per $1.

By the end of 2017, the dollar reached 40 SDG in the black market and the industry faced a even larger blow.

“We import medicine from abroad on instalments, we used to sell it also on installments and then pay our debt, but when the SDG plummeted in the end of 2017, companies and pharmacies stopped selling medicine as they could not set a price,” said the source.

The source’s company and all major pharmaceutical companies in Sudan slid into debt and some companies were over $5 million in debt. They could not pay the bills for the medicine they imported as the SDG lost its value with each passing week.

In February 2018, the Central Bank weakened the SDG value to the dollar to 31.5 only months after it was devalued from 6.7 SDG to 18 SDG per dollar.

All companies including pharmaceutical companies were required to buy hard currency from the official channels and not the black market.

“There is not enough hard currency in the country and we are unable to pay the companies abroad our past bills, we had to stop importing medicine since the beginning of the year, we are now selling old stocks , I don’t know what will happen when it runs out,” said the source.

Individual solutions are on the rise

Direct me is a Sudanese Facebook group with nearly 400,000 users. The group aims to help users find what they are looking for from handymen to an address they are trying to get to.

In recent months, many users have posted about a specific kind of medicine and asking the users if they know where to find it in Sudan. 

Some pharmacists intervene and give directions to pharmacies where this medicine is available and sometimes, users who are the diaspora volunteer to send it with someone traveling to Sudan.

Essra Al-Mahi, an electronics engineer was trying to find products in a cosmetics line only found in pharmacies and when she failed, she started the Facebook group, ask a pharmacist.

“Ask a pharmacist is a group bringing together ordinary citizens and pharmacists and it is a space for people to ask about medical products because availability is a big issue,” said Al-Mahi in an interview.

Pharmacists in the group are consulted on availability of a specific medicine and sometimes, people offer free medicine they don’t need for those in need. 

“The group is still growing, but it proved that pharmacists are a tight-knit community and they know who has what at all times,” said Al-Mahi.

Pharmacists and doctors are often taking matters into their own hands when medicine is scarce.

Nada Haleem, a medical doctor, knows first-hand how her patients suffer when they can not find their medicine.

“I group my patients together in groups and order their medicine from Cairo every few weeks and I find someone coming to the country and willing to carry this medicine,” said Haleem.

The risks are real as the customs are very strict when it comes to bringing medicine into the country without the official channels, and for this reason, people often carry a small supply of medicine.

Some pharmacies order small shipments for their clients from Egypt as well.

“They are very careful because it is illegal so they only sell this kind of medicine which is usually rare in Sudan to their regular and trusted clients, the prices are usually higher because they charge a transport fee,” said the source at the pharmaceutical company.

Norrin believes that there is a growing black market that can not easily be brought under control.

“It is becoming chaotic day by day, recently someone came to my pharmacy and said that he has 100 boxes of a specific medicine and asked if I am willing to buy, he had no relation to any company or even our field,” said Norrin who believes that black market dealers are paying their way out of the checkpoint at the border with Egypt and are smuggling medicine into the country in large amounts.

Norrin added that the only medicine she brings from Egypt on her own is for her parents whose medication is scarce or totally unavailable in Sudan.


'I blocked the memory for years': Sudanese women fight to ban FGM

Published @

KHARTOUM - S.A. remembers her grandmother buying her a new dress and painting her little hands with henna when she was only seven years old.
“I was happy, but didn’t understand why my parents were not there,” she recalled.
Two days later, S.A. was taken by her grandmother to a house in Omdurman, the twin city of the capital Khartoum, made to lie down as her skirt was lifted and she was given an anaesthetic shot by a man.
Today it is 20 years later and the memory is still vivid in her head. S.A. remembers her turn came after a little boy similar in age to her. The feeling of joy that had come with the henna and the new dress was drowned out by fear following the little boy's bloody circumcision. Before she had time to process what was happening, he was carried out and it was her turn.
“A minute later, whatever the man was doing, it was over and my grandmother tied my legs together with a white ribbon in an attempt to stop the bleeding and protect the fresh wound, and took me to the car," said S.A., who now works as a human rights activist on women and minority rights.
"I just wanted to sleep and felt very tired, but she took me to the Nile and washed me with water before returning to her house,” she added.
My grandmother tied my legs together with a white ribbon in an attempt to stop the bleeding and protect the fresh wound 
- S.A., FGM victim
S.A. stayed at her grandmother’s house for a few days to recover. While there, her bandages were changed when needed and she got help when she had to use the bathroom because it was very difficult and painful. Her mother was also with her at that point, but she remembers her being distant and unhappy.
Sudanese women shop at a market in Shendi, the hometown of President Omar al-Bashir, located on the banks of the Nile in Sudan's Arab heartland 190 kilometres (120 miles) from Khartoum, on 1 April 2015 (AFP) 
Sudan has one of the highest rates of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the world. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), most girls are subjected to this practice between the ages of five to nine with an estimated 87 percent prevalence among women aged 15-49. Most of these women have undergone the most extreme form of FGM – infibulation - where all or part of the external genitalia are cut off and the vaginal opening is then narrowed by sewing, leaving only a tiny passage for urine and menstrual fluid.
According to UNICEF, poor women from rural areas are circumcised at the same frequency as their rich and urban counterparts. The UNICEF report added that Sudan has also one of the highest rates of medicalisation of the practice, as nurses, midwives and other health workers take part in the process in 77 percent of the girls. 

Four different cuts

In Sudan, a Muslim-majority country, some claim circumcision is a religious practice that was recommended by the Prophet Muhammad. Others see it as a way of guarding girls’ honour by restricting their sexual desires, while many believe that circumcision is a girl’s rite of passage into adulthood and it will prepare her for marriage.
Now I remember the razor and the scissors, and the midwife who came to do this as she was our neighbour; and the money and candy they put under my pillow before I was cut
- Sumia Hassan, FGM victim 
In 1998, scholars from more than 35 countries came together at Al-Azhar University in Cairo and concluded that FGM is non-obligatory in Islam. According to the scholars, it is never mentioned in the Quran and there are no authenticated citations in Prophet Muhammad's hadith containing any evidence that could justify it. 
They added that the Prophet’s biography contains no reference or evidence that he allowed for the circumcision of his daughters, wives, or any of his female relatives.
Sudan has one of the highest rates of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the world (AFP) 
There are four identified types of FGM. The least severe type is known as the sunnacircumcision, which involves the removal of the prepuce or the tip of the clitoris. 
Sudan’s FGM history is very much rooted in the infibulation practice, the most severe type of FGM, and it has impacted a large number of women. But according to Maya Nour from the Ana Lan initiative, (I will not), a youth-led initiative to stop FGM, the sunna type of circumcision has become more prominent in Sudan in recent decades.

‘I remember the razor’

Sumia Hassan, who preferred to use a pseudonym, only recently recalled that she had been subjected to infibulation 15 years ago. 
At the tender age of five, she was circumcised at her grandmother’s house in El-Obeid, over 600 kilometres from Sudan’s capital.
“I blocked this memory for years. I only remembered what happened when I went to see a counsellor to deal with family issues. I was shocked to know that I was cut. It just didn’t strike me that I was different,” said the 20-year-old student. 
I blocked this memory for years… I was shocked to know that I was cut. It just didn’t strike me that I was different
FGM victim
“Now I remember the razor and the scissors, and the midwife who came to do this as she was our neighbour; and the money and candy they put under my pillow before I was cut,” said Hassan, who is now fighting to stop the circumcision of her cousins who are all below the age of 10.
She has spoken to her aunts about this issue and even threatened to take legal action against them, but she knows that it would be futile as the practice has only been criminalised in some Sudanese states. Still, these laws have done little to curb the practice.
"You can’t even call them laws because they don’t have penalties,” said Samia al-Naggar, a researcher and professor at Ahfad University for Women in OmdurmanFor al-Naggar, the way forward is a national law. 

A law’s bumpy route

Earlier this year, a draft article criminalising FGM was approved by the Council of Ministers, as an amendment to the country's national criminal law. But the article has yet to make its way to parliament, which is the next step after being ratified by the Council of Ministers.
A senior source from the Babiker Badri Scientific Association for Women’s Studies has been following this proposed law. The association was formed in 1979 to improve the status of women in Sudanese society and it has been working on FGM for the last four decades. 
People don’t celebrate the practice anymore. There is no big ceremony and this is a good indicator that the society is receptive. However, only a binding law will truly help end it
Spokesperson, Babiker Badri Scientific Association for Women’s Studies
“The law was pushed by the National Council for Child Welfare and the women’s parliamentary caucus, but I believe that the delay happened due to a lobby inside the parliament, as they have the same mentality as the ones who dropped the 2010 law that was set to criminalise the practice,” she said in a phone interview.
“There was a debate at the Council of Ministers and the parliament on infibulation and sunna circumcision. Many did want to criminalise infibulation, but wanted to manoeuvre through a law that does allow sunna circumcision and this was seen as a failure in the making,” she added.
The source also said that there seems to be a lack of political will from the authorities to push through with criminalisation.
“The council of ministers can put more pressure [on the parliament] and stand its ground, but two years later they seem unwilling to do so,” she concluded.
On her part, al-Naggar believes that the law was proposed at that time because the government was trying to appease the US, who would in turn remove sanctions imposed on Sudan, eventually lifted in 2017 after 20 years.
She explains that the Sudanese government had committed to improving three main issues at its last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2016. These include child marriage, FGM and signing The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Sudan is one of five UN member states that have not ratified CEDAW. 
Two months ago, I finally used a mirror to look at my private parts to see what happened to me, what I was missing
- S.A., FGM victim
Al-Naggar, who is currently working on a book on FGM in Sudan, laments that the FGM law is currently not a priority for parliament, with the deteriorating economic conditions always at the top of its agenda.
On his part, Haid Hamid Sharif, a parliamentarian in the National Assembly, said he is supportive of the law.
“I think if this law is discussed in parliament right now, it would pass with a majority, as we all know the impact of FGM first-hand on the health of women and girls. I would support the law as it is affecting girls in my community in Darfur,” Sharif said.

A safe space

In an office in the Amarat neighbourhood of the capital Khartoum, the Ana Lan initiative (I will not) encourages people to post their pictures with a message about their rejection of FGM via a public campaign. So far, dozens of youth have taken part in the visual campaign, including prominent entrepreneurs and youth leaders.
Nour, a counsellor and activist from Ana Lan, works with FGM survivors and organising group counselling sessions in her home in her spare time.
“We want to do organised counselling for FGM survivors and help them find a safe space to speak out,” said Nour.
I always sit with my legs tightly tied together, as it feels like the only way to protect my body, and regardless of what I wear, I always feel that I am not good enough, like something is missing 
 - S.A., FGM victim
It can take years for survivors to speak out about what happened to them. It took S.A. 20 years to do so.
“I did not speak about what happened to me, in fact I would get annoyed every time the word khitan (FGM) was mentioned. But two months ago, I finally used a mirror to look at my private parts to see what happened to me, what I was missing,” S.A. said.
When she saw for herself what had happened, she began to be more comfortable in her own skin and became more outspoken about it. Yet S.A. is also aware that acceptance is a long process and she acknowledges the effect of her experience on her relationship with her body and any sexual relationship she might have in the future. According to S.A., the way she sits and dresses is still affected.
“I always sit with my legs tightly tied together, as it feels like the only way to protect my body, and regardless of what I wear, I always feel that I am not good enough, like something is missing,” said S.A.
However, S.A. has found the strength to use her experience to help others by advocating against FGM and volunteering with Ana Lan
“Recently, I visited my neighbour to convince her not to circumcise her daughters, and also visited my cousin to do the same,” said S.A.
Years of activism have made speaking out about the practice easier and it has also made families more discreet about taking part in it.
“People don’t celebrate the practice anymore. There is no big ceremony and this is a good indicator that the society is receptive. However, only a binding law will truly help in ending it,” said the source from the association.
S.A. and Hassan say a law would give their work more legitimacy at the grassroots level and also protect their campaigns from religious fundamentalists who see the fight against FGM as a western one.
“I’ve been threatening my cousins to file a complaint against them at the police station if they go through with circumcising their daughters. I need to be able to do this,” said Hassan.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Police shisha raids spread fear as Khartoum cracks down on the pipe

It is a memory Hannah al-Sayed recalls very clearly. One night, while chatting and smoking shisha with her girlfriends in a cafe near the Nile in Khartoum, Sayed, a civil servant, recalled how the outing almost cost her her freedom.
It was 8 January at around 7pm and Sayed had met her friends at the shisha cafe after work. What was meant to be a fun evening ended up with a police officer chasing them down, trying to arrest them.
“I was with my friends in the women-only section and we were having a good time, until two plain-clothed men walked into the place. One of them was on the phone and was describing the location of the cafe,” Sayed said.
Sayed suspected that they were officers and overheard them calling for back-up to raid the cafe, which is a common occurrence in Sudan.
'I was with my friends in the women-only section and we were having a good time, until two plain-clothed men walked into the place'
-Hannah al-Sayed, a civil servant
Sayed and others quickly began gathering their belongings to flee the premises, but one of the officers shut the door and told them that they “will get arrested today”.
To this day, Sayed is still terrified by flashbacks of the event.
“The other women began pushing him away from the door to leave and we were trying to get out, until he held my hand really tight and told us, 'you will not get out today',” Sayed recalled. 
She broke free and while the officer was chasing Sayed and her friends as they bolted for Sayed's car, he continued to scream out that if they did not stop, he would create a scandal and shame them.
When they did reach her car, the officer opened the passenger door and forcefully tried to take away her car keys, refusing to let them leave.
To their fortune, a brave waiter from the cafe had followed them to the scene. He held the officer back and gave the friends the opportunity to escape. Sayed never found out what happened to the waiter after he helped them.
Minutes after Sayed and her friends left the cafe, all the women still in the cafe were arrested by the public order police.
“It could have been us on that police truck. I don’t even want to know what would have happened,” said Sayed, who has resorted to smoking shisha at home since the incident.

Shisha ban

Through a decision announced via local newspapers, on 29 March 2017, the security affairs committee of Khartoum municipality issued a ban on public shisha smoking. They instructed the shutting down of all shisha cafes in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. 
Sudanese man smokes Shisha at a market in southern Sudan in 2006 (AFP) 
Headed by the mayor of Khartoum, General Ahmed Abu-Shanab, the committee is responsible for initiating plans to secure the capital during important events or national holidays, among other tasks.
According to local media, Abu-Shanab said that the municipality has ordered the closure of shisha cafes due to negative social and health effects. This decision effectively bans shisha in all streets, markets and public areas and puts an end to the issuance of permits to serve shisha.
Shisha is widely popular in the Middle East and North Africa. The water pipe, in which flavoured tobacco is burnt using coal, passes through a water vessel and is inhaled through a hose known as a hookah or arghila.
Before the official ban, LM, who preferred to use her initials only, used to work as a waitress in a cafe in Riyadh, an upscale suburb in Khartoum. She said that she had been arrested many times for working in a place that served shisha.
“I will never forget all the times that the police raided the cafe and arrested us, I have entered the police station more times than I can remember,” said LM, who is in her early twenties, in an interview with MEE.
‘I have entered the police station more times than I can remember’ 
- LM, waitress
After being unemployed for months, LM accepted the job despite fears of getting arrested. The lingering anxiety that she felt every morning as she walked into work did not stop her because of a decent salary, in addition to tips.
When the cafe was raided, the owner usually bailed the staff out so that they would not have to spend the night in prison. But in a raid last November, the cafe's owner was out of town, and LM and the rest of the staff were arrested, along with the customers.
“We were taken to the police station and as the staff, we were sentenced to hefty fines of more than 20,000 SDG (almost $3,000), and if the fine was not paid, we would serve six months in prison,” LM said.
Two days after her arrest, LM managed to secure the fine with the help of her acquaintances and was released. LM’s parents never found out she had been arrested.
According to LM, other staff members who could not afford the fine were sent to different prisons across Sudan, some as far as 700 kilometres from Khartoum.
“I remember having to look for their families who had no information about this, and informing them that they need to raise money to bail out their children. It was traumatising,” she said.
No to Women’s Oppression estimates that at least 40,000-50,000 women are arrested every year by the public order police because of their clothing
Until today, there has been no actual article in the criminal code banning smoking shisha in public, but a local order has been in place for a few years. According to experts, this is just as powerful. 
“A local order is a decision made by the municipality,” explained Ahmed Sibar, a human rights lawyer working in Khartoum. And “a local order is valid and gives the judge the authority to prosecute and fine shisha consumers and providers based on it,” he added.
Before the ban in March, authorities had sometimes looked the other way and selectively issued permits for some hotels and cafes to serve shisha, especially those that cater to tourists, but the raids continued. 
The local order is implemented by the public order police, who also act as "morality police" and can arrest men and women for everything from smoking shisha to indecent clothing, under the Sudanese criminal law of 1991.
Raids conducted by the public order police usually happen very abruptly. They storm the venue, confiscate the shisha and arrest the staff and customers who are smoking.

Targeting women

Cafe owners can be fined 1,000 SDG (about $150) and those smoking shisha can be fined from 200-300 SDG each ($29 to $35). If they can't afford to pay the fine, they can be jailed from one to three months. 
“Because the local order fines the consumer of shisha a relatively small amount. The public order police always find other charges mostly related to dress code to increase the fine and arrest the shisha smokers, particularly the women,” said Al-Fatih Hussein, a defence lawyer in several cases filed against women.
Eyewitnesses to raids on shisha cafes in recent months have confirmed that women not wearing headscarves or wearing trousers are always arrested, even if they are not smoking shisha.
Sudanese women, one of them wearing trousers under a long black dress, walk in downtown Khartoum on 8 September 2009 (AFP) 
In December, journalist and novelist Hussam Hilali was sitting with a female friend in Pataya, a cafe in a wealthy area of Khartoum. 
As a precaution, they ordered only one shisha, with Hilali stating that he would assume total responsibility for smoking if the police were to show up.
“We had just begun smoking the shisha and talking when the public order police raided the cafe,” Hilali said.
He added that the officers were aggressive and he was immediately asked to drop the shisha.
“All the women sitting in the cafe were asked to stand, all of them were wearing [long] skirts except my friend who was wearing trousers and they used this as a pretext to arrest her," said Hilali, who refused to let his friend get arrested alone and insisted on going with her.
'All of them were wearing [long] skirts except my friend who was wearing trousers and they used this as a pretext to arrest her'
-Hussam Hilali, journalist and novelist 
Women arrested in shisha cafes are usually arrested for “indecent clothing,” as per Article 152 of the criminal law. It is punishable by a hefty fine that can reach up to 7,000 SDG (over $1,000), 40 lashes and sometimes a jail sentence of approximately one month if detainees are unable to pay fines.
Rights organisations argue that Article 152 is vague and the arresting officer who is left to assess what is indecent is not given clear guidelines because they are not detailed in the law.
Amel Habbani, a journalist and founding member of the group, No to Women’s Oppression, estimates that at least 40,000–50,000 women are arrested every year by the public order police because of their clothing. 

Repercussions of the ban

A waiter at the Coral Hotel, a prominent venue in Khartoum, said that they had stopped serving shisha following the implementation of the ban in March.
“As an administration, we tried to complain against this decision, but to no avail, even though we have paid our taxes and we have a separate space for women,” said waiter Ahmed Adil.
The hotel used to serve between 100-120 shishas every day, costing 80 Sudanese Pounds ($12). Clients would also order juice, tea or food along with the shisha that brought a hefty income to the hotel.
“We are losing a lot of money on a daily basis as a result of this decision,” said Adil, who worked in the women-only shisha section, which is now deserted.
'We are losing a lot of money on a daily basis as a result of this decision'
- Ahmed Adil, waiter
A regular client at the hotel told Middle East Eye that she had come on 9 April and was surprised about this decision.
“After that, I began looking for other options and I found other closed areas and even apartments that serve shisha, but I didn’t go. I am too scared that the police will also come there,” said the client.
Some cafes, however, are still discretely serving shisha behind closed doors. A small Ethiopian-run cafe in Khartoum is one of these cafes that is trying to keep a low profile.
The door leading to the cafe is always closed and photos of coffee greet customers at the entrance.
“We try to protect ourselves and our clients because we serve shisha; you can only enter if you’ve my number or the number of one of the other waitresses,” said Ababa, a waitress working at the cafe.
Some offer the service inside furnished apartments, but the risks are much greater. If arrested in one of these venues, a woman can face charges of practising prostitution.
“The closed cafes serving shisha are now seen as a threat because the authorities believe that other business transactions such as the drugs trade, prostitution and even human trafficking are taking place there," Sibar told MEE.

First published @

Sunday, September 18, 2016

TRACKS center trial, the Sudanese Government and Pornography

"They kept asking me if I have a boyfriend....the last time I was  kissed…they threatened to take naked pictures of me or montage a porn film featuring me," 

It was July 2012 and I was standing with an acquaintance inside the Haj Yousif court-house as we were waiting to attend the trial of several activists. The acquaintance, a young woman, had just been released from detention in the hands of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and was telling me her testimony. As I took mental notes to write down later, I kept thinking of my best friend who was asked during an interrogation by the NISS if she is a lesbian ...after they saw our pictures together… taken on a boat on my birthday. 

In 2012 and 2013, as Sudan saw a wave of mass protests, a number of tweeps confirmed that pornography websites, which are normally blocked by the National Telecommunications Council (NTC) were unblocked. Pornography was a way the NTC, a governmental body, was controlling the masses. They were almost saying: stay home and get off, but don't go out and protest!

Using pornographic language and threatening activists that their images will be pornographized has always been a strong tool to suppress women activists in the past years, but a new case is proving that this tool has reached a whole new level.

The TRACKS trial

The courthouse was full that day, the 4th of September 2016. It was the second session of a long-awaited trial, one that began six months after a training center in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, called the Center for Training and Human Development or TRACKS was raided by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). The center, one of Sudan's few remaining civil society organizations that trains on human rights as well as offers various language and IT diplomas, was also raided a year earlier, in February 2015. 

For most of 2015, the center's director, administrative manager and a trainer who was conducting a workshop at the time of the raid were embroiled in a legal battle as they faced capital charges. By late February 2016, the State Crimes Prosecution Office had found no evidence to carry on the investigation, the director was called in to retrieve the confiscated equipment.

The honeymoon only lasted a few days, the second raid in March 2016 saw the 2015 case re-opened and another case filed against the director of the center, its female administrative manager as well as two volunteers, one freelance accountant and a visitor who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were arrested at the time of the raid, released later that night and were summoned in for several weeks after that.

The six defendants (including a 22-year old Cameroonian student who is studying in Sudan), sat in the courthouse that Sunday waiting to be tried, but in fact, the entire Sudanese civil society was on trial in Sudan that day and pornography and what was perceived as pornography were used as a political tool against them. Again, the personal is always political in Sudan.

During the session, the plaintiff exhibited a pornographic film that was allegedly found on the laptop of one of the defendants, Mustafa Adam. They also accused another defendant, Midhat Afif Al-Deen of also having pornographic films on his laptop. For the lawyers, this film was irrelevant to the case which has articles such as waging war against the state and undermining the constitutional authority as you need a "militia" to wage war against the state and not a porno. For technical experts,  the plaintiff did not show evidence that the films were downloaded before the arrest of the defendants and by the defendants themselves. 

I personally understood this tactic in a completely different manner. 

First of all, the plaintiff understands that this case will become a public opinion case and understands that the international community is interested as human rights defenders/civil society actors are the ones on trial, so they believe that setting the ground by damaging the defendants's public image and presenting them as immoral as understood and seen by the conservative Sudanese society will cause confusion within the solidarity movement. This tactic is very dangerous as it will be used to instigate public opinion against the defendants and initiate a smear campaign that changes the entire discourse of the trial causing the lawyers to become distracted from the actual charges. The lawyers and the solidarity movement will waste precious time defending the defendants regarding this issue instead of actually campaigning against the bogus charges they face regardless of the fact that many are not even convinced that the state should have the right to persecute you for any material found on your personal devices!

Second of all, as the NISS confiscated the personal laptops, phones and other equipment from the defendants, their personal life became under scrutiny from a state that values its ability to enter your life, house and the privacy of your body under the so-called public order articles. It is very normal for the state to criminalize and persecute the behavior, dress-code and personal attitudes of Sudanese men and women, however, the court case used personal files to persecute the entire civil society by showing personal pictures of Midhat Afif Al-Deen and his family and friends. 

My picture was shown as part of the evidence….. I am standing with a close friend during her farewell party. Midhat was there and it is possible that he took the picture or it was later shared with him on Facebook... I don't remember. If you have to know, we are not naked, but our headscarfs were around our shoulders. Our picture was shown as pornography because the state pornograhizes women's bodies regardless of their dress-code and for this reason, the article on "dress-code" in the public order articles is loose and does not explain anything. You are naked in the eyes of the system regardless of how you dress. With women who are perceived as activists or active in the civil society, this is done on another level. Our pictures were shown to reiterate their point, this is the civil society here! They watch pornography and their women are uncovered and they are even smiling in the pictures! 

What an utter debauchery!

The civil society was painted as a world of debauchery and this debauchery was documented in pictures that were shown inside the courthouse, violating the privacy of the defendants and their friends. But it was done for this exact reason, the NISS wanted to put the whole civil society on trial and in Sudan, the worst kind of trial is a moral one. We hear about political detainees and we see their pictures circulate on social media, but in a country where lawyers believe that thousands of women and men are persecuted by the public order police (community security police), we don't see them and we don't hear their stories because the society becomes your biggest prosecutor after the court if the charges against you are questioning your "morality".

The trial was heavy on everyone. Some walked out before it finished, others walked out extremely uncomfortable. 

I feel extremely uncomfortable that we are not doing enough to fight this new kind of persecution, the Sudanese civil society will be doomed. Organizations have been shut down and civil society actors have been put in jail, but this last debacle was an attempt to discredit the civil society and we can not let this happen.

Because if this works, the next time a civil society organization will be tried , it will not be for national security crimes, but it will be for charges such as prostitution and defamation. The morals of the committed people behind TRACKS center are being investigated in a court house in Sudan, but they are in this situation because of their morals…their solid values and beliefs in working for a just society where human rights become a norm is the only matter that needs to be highlighted.

Friday, September 16, 2016

For the NISS in Sudan: the personal is political

A few days ago, the Lieutannt-Colonel, Taha Osman Al-Hussein, the director of the Sudanese President's Office, wrote his number on a piece of paper and pressed it into a woman's hand at a wedding event in Khartoum.

The woman told her husband who rushed to see Al-Hussein and engaged in a physical confrontation with him, but the attendees broke up the fight, Sudanese-style and such. A few hours later, the husband, Ahmed Abdul-Gasim, was kidnapped by National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and after heavy beatings and torture, he was dumped on the outskirts of Khartoum and had to be hospitalized according to his brother.

Upon receiving this narrative as part of an advocacy google group I am in, I couldn't help but start thinking about how the NISS in Sudan has become personalized. Not that the apparatus has ever served the "national security " interests of the country , but it has become a tool used by individuals, in power or with relatives in power, to suppress, oppress and subjugate other citizens who get in their way. In fact, it seems that the NISS acts like a personal militia that is at your service if you have the right connections or right title.

Abdul-Gasim came forward with his story and pictures showing his wounded  body was released on Sudanese social media and email lists, however, many stories of how average citizens can use their positions and connections to enlist the services of the NISS to punish them or teach them a lesson they can never forget are left untold

Last April, a woman in her 30s from Eastern Sudan was gang-rapped by the NISS and her story never came out. 

The woman who is a mother of seven girls was arrested by two NISS agents  after her employer accused her of stealing a gold ring. When the woman denied this accusation, her employer took matters into her own hands, she called her relative who works for the NISS and two NISS agents arrested the poor lady as she attempted to make ends meet.

She was taken to one of the security offices and was whipped as she kept denying that she took the ring which was actually found by the owner. Apparently, it was misplaced….. but this did not spare the lady from their cruelty She was beaten and gang-rapped by two security agents, they removed her face veil and tied her hands with her toub (Sudanese traditional custom) and violated her in a governmental office. 

After this incident, the woman was forced out of the house of her husband's family with her daughters and was forced to live in a makeshift tent on the streets. The family and even her husband had serious problems trying to accept what had happened. A lawyer from the area agreed to provide her with legal aid, but since the NISS is involved , it is unlikely that the case will move forward and it is very likely that she will be persecuted once again for trying to stand up against NISS as they have extensive powers and immunities as stated in the National Security Act of 2010. 

Last month, three young women studying at a private university in Khartoum state were arrested by the police for allegedly having drugs on them. An acquaintance interviewed the woman who said that one of them was in a relationship with a man working for the NISS, after she left him due to a series of problems, he set them up. 

They were arrested by the police right in front of their university, in front of their colleagues in the most degrading way. Their families paid their bail, but upon their release, they were re-arrested as the NISS has more power than the police and judiciary system in Sudan. 

In their second arrest, they were sentenced to a month in prison at a time when they had to take their exams. They were not even allowed to leave prison to take their end of semester exams putting them at risk of having to repeat the year.

Abdul-Gasim's story is yet another reminder that in Sudan, the NISS can be used against you as a citizen for the most personal matters. You basically can not mess with anyone who is part of this apparatus or knows someone working for it. All citizens who are viewed as a nuisance are dealt with as a national security threat by an institution that views itself as only less powerful than God.