Friday, February 17, 2012

Published: Sudan continues crackdown on voices of dissent

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KHARTOUM : The National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) arrested twelve youth activists from the popular groups, Girifna (We are Fed Up) and Youth for Change over the last week in the Sudanese Capital Khartoum. Other members of Girifna are reportedly being pursued by security officials.

There has been shrinking space for freedom of expression since Arab Spring uprisings in neighbouring North African nations began in late 2010. The government of Sudan has tightened the noose on youth and opposition groups that are calling for change as well as cracked down on independent media. Since July 2011, 8 newspapers have been suspended by the security forces. Only two English newspapers are surviving in Sudan as five newspapers were suspended after the South Sudan secession in 2011.

Some newspapers like Rai Al Shab and Ahjras Al Hurriya were suspended for their affiliation with opposition parties while others Alwan, an independent newspaper was shut down under unclear circumstances.

Many opposition parties have members in detention. Dr. Bushra Gamar and Dr. Abdelmoniem Rahma, both from Sudan People’s Liberation Movement -North Faction (SPLM-N), a movement currently prohibited in Sudan, have been in detention since June and September, respectively.

Taj Al Sir Gaafar, a student at the University of Khartoum who belongs to the opposition movement, HAQ, has been in detention since December 2011. Calls for the release of the detainees have not yielded much action from President Omar Al Bashir’s government.

Since early 2011 when the Arab Spring began, opposition groups have publicly called for regime-change as the only way forward for Sudan. President Bashir who heads the current ruling party, the National Congress Party, came to power in 1989 after staging a military coup and overthrowing a democratically-elected government. Since then, Sudan has been embroiled in violent conflicts.

Currently Bashir’s government is fighting different rebel groups in different parts of the country. The government has also been accused of mismanaging billions of oil revenues. Sudan began exporting oil in the late 1990s, although a number of high-rise buildings were added to Khartoum’s skyline, little has changed for the majority of Sudanese citizens.

In January and February 2011 hundreds of Sudanese youth participated in an unprecedented wave of street demonstrations. It is estimated that at least 113 were arrested during those protests; some detainees including Girifna members reported abuse during detention. The youth were released, but some ahve reportedly been under surveillance after their release to monitor their political activities.

Khartoum has also seen protests against the alarming increase in commodity prices. The protests against high prices have spread to Kassala, a city in Eastern Sudan, where students held mass protests but faced a brutal crackdown far away from the national and international media eye.

In late 2011 there was a boycott on meat as people looked for different ways to beat the government crack down. Supermarkets that have previously had all products began stocking up on basic commodities and lessening their purchase of products now seen as luxury such as jam and tuna.

Sudan also faces continued protest by the Manasir, an ethnic group from Northern Sudan who have held a sit-in in River Nile State against displacement and lack of compensation as a result of the construction of the Merowe dam. The dam was built on Manasir land and directly displaced thousands of ethnic Manasir.

The government of Sudan defends the dam and is currently building two other controversial dams as an attempt to boost electricity supply to all parts of Sudan. Power cuts remain a daily reality for the 40 million citizens of Sudan. With all these protests the government has increased its highhandedness.

Students of Zalingei University (West Darfur) demonstrating in December 2010.

A Sudanese youth whom I spoke to but cannot mention because of their safety said they have been targeted.

” My friend and I ran out of his house when we noticed two cars parked outside. We ran down small alleyways while the cars tried to catch up with us,” said A.S who was forced to leave his house for security reasons on Friday. A.S also had to stop using his phone as it is bugged and could be used to track his movements.

Another female member of Girifna reported that her phone was bugged and her house is under constant surveillance by the NISS.

“When I went home after Wednesday’s event, I found an NISS vehicle and officers watching my house,” said R.S.

Members of the NISS are immune to trials and can detain activists for up to 9 months on the pretext of defending national security. Cases of torture were reported inside NISS premises, which are usually government-owned houses in residential neighborhoods.

This followed held on January 25 to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Port Sudan massacre where at least 22 were killed and over 400 were injured following clashes between security and protestors asking for an end to the marginalization of Eastern Sudan. The event featured speakers from East Sudan to speak about the ongoing humanitarian crises and neglect there. Girifna has been working for change in Sudan since 2009.

All those detainees do not know their fate until a decision is taken by government and in some cases they are forced to sign documents promising to stop their political activities before release. In other cases, they have to go to court for charges ranging from public nuisance to conspiring against the state and cases usually drag on for a few months.

Commentators have asked when will the Arab spring reach Sudan, which is well, qualified looking at political and economic problems and ongoing humanitarian crises. The important question is not when the revolution will reach Sudan but in what form would it reach.

Last year, rebel groups from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile and even East Sudan joined forced and created the Sudan Revolutionary Front, which calls for an armed struggle to overthrow the government as an alternative. Although people in Central and Northern Sudan are keen on regime-change, there is still a divide between the advantaged Central and Northern Sudan and the marginalized other parts on how to bring about regime change.

Change in Sudan is inevitable, protests are ongoing but until Sudanese people from different groups unite, the government will continue to easily crash dissent and pit groups against others.

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