Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sudan protest victims still seeking justice

At around 3 p.m. on the extraordinarily hot afternoon of May 28, Sara Abdel-Bagi's mother stood in front of the Bahri court complex in shock and in tears. In the middle of the street, with one hand in the air, she screamed, "There is no god but God, there is no justice for my daughter." The other hand clutched her thobe, the local Sudanese customary attire, as it kept collapsing on the road.
Women and men from Abdel-Bagi's family, together with activists who attended the court session, formed a straight line and closed the street, holding signs with pictures of martyrs who fell during the September 2013 protests in Sudan. Some read, "We will not forget, we will not forgive."
The September protests, also referred to as Sudan Revolts 2.0, began in Medani, the capital of Al-Jazeera state before it spread to Khartoum state and elsewhere. The protests came after President Omar Bashir announced the removal of fuel and gas subsidies. The protests quickly grew bloody, with Amnesty International estimating that 210 protesters had been killed by government forces.
Hundreds were arrested during the protests and dozens remain in prison with ongoing trials for their participation. In January 2014, Bashir called for a national dialogue with opposition parties. Some parties, such as Umma, the largest opposition party, and the Islamist Popular Congress Party,joined the call for dialogue, but Umma suspended the dialogue after its leader was arrested by the national security forces in May.
The judge adjudicating the trial of Sara's murder concluded that "there is confusion and contradictions in the testimonies of the witnesses," and ordered that Sami Mohamed Ahmed, a former soldier accused of shooting Sara Abdel-Bagi to death, be freed.
After the court adjourned, the scene was chaotic. Sara's sister Eiman, a journalist, was held back by family members as she kicked down a traffic triangle while her aunt chanted, "One million martyrs for a new dawn." Tearful activists holding signs were screamed at by armed riot police who waved their clubs at them, threatening to use force while plainclothes security officers grabbed the signs and shoved them into a plastic bag. One protester told Al-Monitor, "He put the posters with the martyr's pictures in a trash bag."
On Sept. 25, 2013, Sara Abdel-Bagi left her house in distress with her sister for her uncle's house, only a few meters away, to attend her 15-year-old cousin’s funeral. Her cousin, Suhaib Mohamed Musa, had been shot dead while participating in the fourth day​ of the mass protests
Abdel-Bagi never made it to her cousin's funeral; she was shot right in front of her house. When she reached the hospital, there was no specialist to treat her and she died, Eiman told Al-Monitor. Her family struggled to cope with the aftermath. Just reaching the court was a challenge on its own.
"We received everything from threats to total refusal to even open a complaint against [the soldier] Ahmed. Many discouraged us and said there will be no justice," said Abdel-Bagi's aunt Fatima al-Amin, also an activist.
It took 67 days for the police to arrest Ahmed, even after he was named by witnesses in court on Oct. 9, 2013. There were 12 witnesses in total, with five testifying that they saw him shoot her, according to the documentation submitted by the family's lawyer to the court and seen by Al-Monitor.
One witness. who is related to Ahmed, said that he was the only one dressed in civilian clothes who was armed in the area, and that he saw him shoot her.
"Even one of the defense witnesses reiterated the testimonies of our witnesses and put him in that location at that time," said Amin.
According to Amin, Ahmed also shot dead another young man in their neighborhood, Al-Doroshab North. His family, along with the family of Musa, waited for the results of Abdel-Bagi's case before they took action. 
For Mutasim al-Haj, Abdel-Bagi's lawyer, the fight is not over.
"We will take the case to the court of appeals, then to the high court and then to the constitutional court. If no justice prevails, we will take our case to the African court," Haj told Al-Monitor.
Following Ahmed's trial, Haj was interrogated by security personnel for 2 ½ hours.
"I was told that I instigated the people to hold signs and conduct the protest in front of the court and that I am not practicing law, I am doing political work," said Haj, adding that he, along with other lawyers, will write a memorandum detailing this violation to the Lawyers Syndicate.
Another mother of a protester who was killed during the protest, who wished to remain anonymous, told Al-Monitor that so far she has been unable to file a complaint and take her son's case to court.
"I am a widow and when I went to the police station to file a complaint, I was told that as a woman, I need a blood kin to do this. Although I am his mother, I had to get his uncle's permission," she said, adding that even when she complied, they still refused to take her complaint. She is working with a lawyer to bring her son's case to court.
Sideeg Yousif, the head of the National Committee for Solidarity with the Families of Martyrs and Wounded, said that families who lost loved ones during the September protests face many problems. "The police will never open a complaint for them against the national security, which is the accused body. It will open a complaint against an unknown assailant," Yousif told Al-Monitor. He added that all families received a permit to bury the bodies, but no medical reports or autopsies.
"If you have no medical report and most importantly Form Eight (a police form documenting physical harm), it is difficult to file a complaint. Most families were denied Form Eight, but in usual cases, the police require it even before you get medical attention," Yousif said.
By the end of 2013, the Sudanese government estimated that 80 people lost their lives in the protests after insisting that only 34 had died until a month after the protests. 
The justice minister has formed a committee led by the chairman of the General Prosecution Office of Omdurman, Babiker Gashi, to investigate the events of September 2013, but the committee has yet to present any findings. In fact, in May an official at the Ministry of Justice denied that a committee had ever been formed in the first place.
Amin continues to advocate for her niece and other martyrs, but others have questions that remain unanswered.
One young activist who wished to remain anonymous told Al-Monitor, "On Sept. 25, I joined a protest in Al-Fatehab in Omdurman. When we reached the Mohandiseen roundabout, there were no police, but then new forces that we never saw before appeared and shot live bullets."
The activist said that the scene was chaotic while they recovered fallen protesters. One body, that of a secondary-school student named Salem, was carried away by the protesters and that sparked another protest. The activist said, "The forces came again and when they opened live fire and tear gas, people ran for cover. When we were conscious again, the bed we were carrying was empty — Salem's body was taken."
Salem's story is one of many, and further proof that the crackdown on protesters in September 2013 needs independent investigation.

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