Monday, December 24, 2012

Sudan Activists Languish in Jail

MEDANI, Sudan — On June 28, 2011, Mohamed Saleh and Ma'ni Mubarak were attending "Breaths," a three-day cultural forum organized by students at Al-Jazeera University in Medani, 300 kilometers from Sudan's capital, Khartoum. Hailing from Nubia, Mubarak was involved in organizing the section about Nubian heritage and culture, while Saleh attended the performances before leaving in the late afternoon, long before the clashes began.

At about 6 p.m., the students were taking a break before resuming the forum after prayers, when a fight broke out between students from the Islamic Movement and the Democratic Front. The initial scuffle seemed contained, until:
"All of a sudden, I saw students from the Islamic Movement coming towards us with metal rods and trying to break the benches in the cafeteria to use them as weapons," said Nisreen Al-Mamoun, one of the forum's organizers.
Al-Mamoun said that the attackers asked all students to leave the area except for Communist students, in reference to the Democratic Front (DF), which is a student movement affiliated with the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP).
"They dropped a molotov and students started leaving, but the attacks on students already began and I saw people getting injured," said Al-Mamoun, who was a chemical engineering student at the time.
Mubarak was one of the students beaten, as he was one of the most popular characters on campus and a speaker for the DF.
"I was beaten with metal rods and to defend myself, I began throwing bricks at the attackers," said Mubarak, who added that other students were defending themselves by throwing stones and bricks.
Mubarak was unlucky, he was injured and rushed to the hospital, not knowing that more than a year later, he would be behind bars for causing "severe bodily harm" as stipulated under Sudanese criminal law.
The clashes received little media coverage and the students moved on with their lives. Saleh graduated and began applying for jobs.
"A year later, I was in town to attend the fourth memorial of Mutasim Abu Al-As. I was with friends, including Mubarak in a coffee shop, when security officers arrested us," said Saleh, who was in town to get his certificates and documents from the university.
Abu Al-As was a DF student who was stabbed to death in clashes with Islamic Movement's students in 2008 at Al-Jazeera University. Saleh said he was warned by an Islamist student accused in the murder of Abu Al-As to not return to Medani.
"He told me to stay away or else I could get killed," added Saleh.
Student violence has become a norm in Sudan. In 1964, a revolution that toppled the military dictatorship was inspired by the killing of a University of Khartoum student at the hands of the police. However, violence has in the last decade adopted an ugly politicized face with students from rival political factions killing each other.
Student deaths in recent years have exceeded 35, with the majority being due to severe torture by security forces or clashes between Islamic Movement students, who are loyal to the regime, and other students.
"We were detained for two weeks before our friends and lawyers paid 3,000 Sudanese pounds ($600 at the time) to bail us out," said Mubarak recalling the detention last June.
But Mubarak was not released and was instead accused of attacking a security guard at the university.
"In court, the witnesses — who were security agents — were too scared to lie. They ended up contradicting the case and the court declared him innocent," said Hanadi Fadul, an Al-Jazeera University graduate who worked on Mubarak’s case.
In late November, the five students were arrested again and taken to court.
"The witnesses who were students from the government's party contradicted themselves on key points which should've dropped the charges against the students," said Adil Abbas, a lawyer who is part of the student's defense team.
Abbas added that although Saleh was not there, the court deviously built its case on the fact that he did not clearly say that he was not there during his court hearing.
"The students when attacked have the legal right to defend themselves," added Abbas, in reference to the accusation that Mubarak caused harm to students by throwing bricks at them.
Five lawyers worked on this case including Abbas and Fadul to divide the work load. Fadul was responsible for defending a student charged with stabbing a student.
"My defense was simple, he suffers from dwarfism and he has to stand on a table in order to stab a tall person in the stomach. He is also incapable of holding the huge knife they claimed he used," said Fadul. He added that, legally, only medical reports from a government hospital were accredited by the court, but this time, the court accepted a report from a private hospital, which is against the law.
In prison, the students receive visits from their friends who bring them food and keep them company in an attempt to make their one-year sentence more bearable.
"The food they serve, even birds cannot eat it," said Mubarak who added that their cell has 50 prisoners.
Nisreen Al-Mamoun, who is a close friend to both students, brings them food each week.
"Two days before they were sentenced to a year in court, Saleh was hired in his dream job at the Ministry of Agriculture," said Al-Mamoun.
Mubarak's younger brother, Mohamed, told Al-Monitor of his anger at his brother’s sentence while en route to Medani from Kharoum. "I'm going to see my brother, I cannot accept this sentence, it is very unfair, he does not deserve a year," said Mohamed.
Last week, four students from Al-Jazeera University were found dead after they went missing following a public forum discussing fee exemption for Darfuri students.
Their colleagues and human rights activists allege that the students were tortured to death by security forces, however, the university and the police stated that they drowned in a sewage pond not far from the university.
Their deaths inspired a wave of protests in many cities across the country calling for retribution and the removal of the Sudanese government.

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