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(Nairobi) – Sudan is illegally detaining at least seven Darfuri and Nuba civilians accused of supporting a coalition of Sudanese rebel groups, Human Rights Watch said today.

National security agents arrested more than 26 people in Khartoum after a rebel alliance called the Sudan Revolutionary Forces (SRF) attacked the towns of Um Rawaba in North Kordofan state, and Abu Kershola, in South Kordofan state, in late April 2013. Some have been released, but seven people are believed to remain in custody, held incommunicado at locations that have not been revealed.

“These arrests fit a pattern of retaliation against civilians from areas where rebels are fighting government forces,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to say why and where they are holding these civilians, and either charge or free them.”

If there are lawful grounds to prosecute the detainees, the authorities should immediately take them before a judicial authority, charge them with a recognizable crime, and allow access to lawyers, medical care and family visits, Human Rights Watch said.

On April 27, the rebel coalition began offensives into North Kordofan, staging a hit-and-run attack on Um Rawaba and capturing the smaller town of Abu Kershola. The United Nations estimates that fighting in Abu Kershola and surrounding villages displaced 63,000 people. The Sudanese government reestablished control of the town in late May.

The SRF includes the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-North), the Sudanese rebel group fighting government forces in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and several Darfur groups, including the two main factions of the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). 

In the days after the rebel attack, National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS) agents in Khartoum arrested at least 14 men of Nuba ethnicity including traditional leaders, shopkeepers, and teachers. Of the 14, ten were from the Moro sub-group of the Nuba ethnic group. NISS officials arrested them at about 9:30 p.m. on April 29 in Khartoum’s neighboring city of Omdurman.

The intelligence agents divided the detainees into two groups and transported one group to the NISS headquarters in Khartoum North, and the other to the NISS wing of Kober prison. One of the former detainees told Human Rights Watch that the group was transported in a small pickup truck to a detention center in Wadi Saidna district, where they spent the night. They were taken to another detention facility in downtown Khartoum the next morning. The men were questioned about their links to the SPLA-North. Most were released after 18 days, but national security officials continue to hold at least one in the national security wing of Kober prison.
“This wave of arrests clearly violates the basic rights and freedoms of Sudanese people to express their opinions at a time of political uncertainty and turmoil across the country,” Bekele said. “Cracking down reflexively not only ignores rights, it hardens grievances and fuels conflict.”

In a separate pattern of arrests following the rebel attacks, Intelligence Service authorities detained at least 12 Darfuri students in June. These arrests occurred after the higher education minister on May 30 banned student groups affiliated with the rebel coalition from conducting political activities.

On June 16, intelligence officers arrested five Darfuri student activists at three locations in Khartoum and Omdurman. The five were arrested the day that student supporters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) at Omdurman’s Ahlia University clashed with student members of the United Popular Front (UPF), a group linked to the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army faction led by Abdel Wahid Mohammed el-Nur.

Seven of the 12 Darfuri students were released after hours or days in detention, but the five arrested on June 16 remain in detention. They have not been allowed access to lawyers or family visits, in violation of fundamental due process guarantees. Authorities have refused to tell family members where the young men are.

On June 30, another young man, Al-Hadi Adam Mohammed, was arrested during an anti-government protest at Khartoum University. Al-Hadi’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that students affiliated with the NCP beat him severely and that he was taken afterward to police custody. The lawyer said al-Hadi was then transferred to Intelligence Service custody and remains in a secret location.

Sudan’s national security law allows for detaining people for up to four and a half months without charge, in violation of international law. 

“Sudanese authorities should immediately inform families where their loved ones are being held,” Bekele said. “These arbitrary arrests also underscore the urgent need to revise the draconian national security laws.”

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