(Nairobi) – Sudan is still detaining dozens of people without charge in connection with September 2013 protests, and some released detainees have said they were beaten in detention. The Sudanese authorities should charge or release them, investigate allegations of ill-treatment and torture by detained protesters, and hold any officials responsible to account.
Of 11 former detainees Human Rights Watch interviewed, six men said they were beaten while in detention. Others said they saw security officials beating detainees, or injuries on detainees that they believed were the result of beatings.
“Sudanese authorities are holding dozens of people just because of their political views,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Sudan should immediately put an end to any ill-treatment of detainees, and either charge or free them.”
In the lead up to, during, and after the protests, security forces arrested known political activists, opposition party members, and protesters – more than 800 people, according to Sudanese rights groups. Although most were released within days, the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS) detained many for weeks, either in NISS detention centers or in regular prisons.
Despite the release of many detainees during and after Eid holidays in October, dozens remain in detention, without charge or access to lawyers or family visits, because of their presumed political views. Detainees held by NISS are at risk of ill-treatment and torture.
Popular protests broke out in Khartoum and other towns on September 23 following an announcement by President Omar al-Bashir that the government would lift fuel and other subsidies. Some demonstrations turned violent as protesters vandalized and set fire to gas stations and police stations, and threw stones at police and security forces. The Sudanese government responded with excessive force, firing live ammunition and teargas into demonstrations, killing and injuring dozens.
Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups on November 1 asked the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to investigate the killings of more than 170 protesters, including children, in Sudan, most of them shot dead when government security forces fired live ammunition into the demonstrations. Any African Commission investigation should include allegations of ill-treatment and torture of detainees, Human Rights Watch said.
Sudan’s leaders have denied involvement of security forces in killing protestors, but on November 4 the justice minister announced that the Justice Ministry is investigating 84 deaths. Human rights groups say many more people were killed; a Sudanese doctors’ union put the number of deaths at 210. The investigation should also cover allegations of ill-treatment and torture of detainees, Human Rights Watch said.
Under article 45 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Commission has the authority to conduct research into human rights practices and to give its views and recommendations to governments. The commission has not responded to the letter.
People who remain in detention in connection with the September protests include Mohammed Ali Mohammado, a 40-year-old Darfuri journalist with al-Akhbar newspaper, detained since September 25, and Mohammed Farouk Suliman, a senior member of the Sudanese Alliance Party, detained since November 11, following more than a week of NISS summonses and interrogations. His whereabouts are unknown.
At least six Darfuri university students, presumed to have links to the pro-rebel student group United Popular Front, were arrested in September and October and are still detained at NISS offices in Bahri, Khartoum. Seven men of South Sudanese origin, arrested in late September because they took part in the protests, are also in NISS detention at Kober prison. The circumstances and grounds for these arrests are unclear, but one released detainee told Human Rights Watch that some of the other detainees he saw in Kober prison appeared to have been beaten.
People detained in connection with the protests and released at various times in October told Human Rights Watch that they were questioned about their role in organizing protests and their affiliations with various groups, particularly Sudan Change Now, a largely youth-driven movement calling for an end to the current government, or opposition parties or rebel movements.
A 22-year-old Darfuri student arrested in Sennar and then transported to Khartoum told Human Rights Watch that national security officers detained him in Bahri, Khartoum, beat him, and accused him of being linked to the United Popular Front: “I was badly beaten and insulted. They asked why I am agreeing with [the rebels] to change the regime.” He was released after four days.
A 20-year-old student from Khartoum was arrested on September 27 at the Kalakla market and detained at an NISS office, where security officials interrogated him about his involvement in the protests and links to Darfuri protesters. They beat him for about two hours, he told Human Rights Watch. He was released after two days.
A Darfuri member of the opposition Democratic Unionist Party said he was arrested on September 22 and held for more than a month in Kober prison. He was also beaten while being interrogated about his links with rebel groups, he said. “They beat me with sticks and plastic pipes for four consecutive days and I had to seek medical treatment for my head,” he told Human Rights Watch.
A 30-year-old Communist Party member from Gedarif said NISS officials arrested him on September 28, transported him to Khartoum, and interrogated him about an opposition party statement denouncing the government. The officers beat him with sticks and plastic pipes and questioned him about who organized demonstrations in Gedarif, he told Human Rights Watch.
The NISS has a history of ill-treatment and torture of political detainees, including youth protesters. Sudan’s National Security Act authorizes detentions of up to four-and-a-half months without charge or judicial review, in contravention of international human rights standards. Human Rights Watch and other groups have long called on Sudan to reform the law in line with international standards.
“The abuses reported to us by former detainees raise serious concerns about the welfare of the protesters still in detention,” Bekele said. “By investigating these allegations and holding abusive officials to account, Sudan’s leaders can send a clear message that the abuse of prisoners will not be tolerated.”