(Nairobi) – Security forces in Sudan arrested dozens of opposition party members, students, and political activists, in the lead up to, during, and after national elections, April 13 to 16, 2015.

Those arrested included people participating in a campaign to boycott the elections “Irhal” (or “Go!” in Arabic). The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies, in a statement released the day after polls closed, documented 22 arrests on April 12 alone. Sudanese monitoring groups have reported dozens of additional arrests.

Many of the detainees face serious charges, including for crimes that carry the death penalty. Sudanese authorities should stop arresting people because of their real or perceived political views, release everyone arbitrarily detained, drop unfounded charges, and investigate allegations of detainee abuse, Human Rights Watch said.

“Instead of allowing people to express their views peacefully, the government is snatching up political activists and beating, torturing, and jailing them, without the slightest pretense of respect for basic rights,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The best way for the ruling party to celebrate the elections is to end the crackdown on political dissent.”

On April 27, 2015, Sudan’s election commission announced the reelection of President Omar al-Bashir, who faces criminal charges at the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in Darfur. The Troika countries (the US, UK, and Norway) have criticized the Sudanese government for failing to create conditions for free and fair elections, noting low voter turnout and ongoing violence in the country.

Sudanese monitors have reported that arrests, often by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), are continuing. On April 28, in Omdurman, NISS agents arrested at least three activists speaking out against the elections, including Mastor Ahmed Mohammed, a member of the opposition Sudanese Congress Party (SCP), which is among the parties that boycotted the elections.

In Lagawa, Western Kordofan, on April 21, heavily armed security forces arrested a traditional leader known as a sultan, a lawyer, and a student because they supported an independent candidate, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The three men remain in detention without charge, under the authority of the state governor. Over the past three months Lagawa’s residents have been protesting about the lack of development in the area and other grievances against the state government.

On April 20, in Khartoum, NISS agents arrested Dr. Jalal Mustafa, chair of the committee for solidarity with families of those killed and injured during the violent crackdown on popular protests in September 2013. The agents arrested Dr. Jalal after he spoke out publicly against the detentions. He remains in NISS custody.

The NISS has broad powers of arrest and can detain people for up to four-and-a-half months without judicial oversight. The agency is widely known for abusive treatment of detainees. In recent weeks, released detainees and other credible sources have confirmed that NISS agents or men in civilian clothing suspected of working with the NISS severely beat detainees and warned them not to report the beatings.

In one case on April 19, a group of security officials and pro-government students abducted and beat a student leader at Khartoum University. The attackers blindfolded the student leader, tied his hands, and took him to the NISS offices near the Shendi bus station in Khartoum. They beat him with batons for several hours and interrogated him about his links to opposition political parties, then released him after ordering him not to report what had happened.

In Khartoum, a lawyer who was arrested in his office by national security agents on April 12 told Human Rights Watch that he had been blindfolded and beaten with pipes, and could barely move because of his injuries. “My body is broken,” he said by telephone on April 20. He and four other men detained with him, all ethnic Nuba, were released on April 15.

In one of the most high-profile cases, a group of armed men whom she suspected of being NISS officers arrested Dr. Sandra Kadouda, a prominent political and human rights activist, on April 12 as she drove to an anti-elections event at the National Umma Party headquarters in Omdurman. They held her for three days at an unknown location, and then freed her on April 15, visibly bruised and with injuries to her shoulder, media and credible sources reported.

NISS denied responsibility for Kadouda’s arrest and sought to cover up information about the case. Authorities have in recent days charged her with defamation and spreading false information, and arrested family members. On April 20, NISS officials censored a newspaper article about her detention in the al-Sudani newspaper.

On the morning of April 2, NISS officials in Sinja, Sennar state, arrested a female member of the Sudanese Congress Party, as she campaigned against holding the elections. She told Human Rights Watch that the men tied her up and beat her for several hours while insulting her, then released her in a remote area. Her injuries were so severe she had to be hospitalized and continues to receive treatment. NISS officials also warned her not to report what happened to her.

Among those facing serious charges is Adil Bakheet, a well-known human rights defender and member of the Sudanese Congress Party. NISS officials arrested him on April 16 and interrogated him about training he had done with an organization called Tracks for Training and Human Development (“Tracks”). They charged him with offenses against the state, punishable by death. He remains in detention. NISS had raided Tracks on March 26, accusing participants of promoting the elections boycott. NISS has repeatedly summoned and harassed Tracks’ staff and managers.

Three other members of the Congress Party who were arrested on April 11 in El Doweim, in White Nile, also face charges of crimes punishable by death, including undermining the constitutional system. They were transferred to Khartoum, where they remain in detention without access to lawyers or family visits.

Sudanese authorities have also clamped down on nongovernmental groups. In addition to the raid on Tracks, in March authorities ordered the closing of an environmental group in Omdurman. Security agents questioned the organization’s manager about links to the anti-elections campaign. In February officials closed the Sudanese Writer’s Union, and on January 18, they raided the Mahmoud Mohammed Taha Cultural Center during an event marking the thirtieth anniversary of the execution of Taha, a renowned secular Islamic scholar, and ordered the center closed down.  

On December 21, 2014, security agents raided the Sudanese Human Rights Monitor and confiscated laptops and documents. On December 6 and 7, the authorities had arrested Dr. Amin Mekki Medani, the organization’s founder and well-known human rights lawyer, Farouk Abu Eissa, an opposition leader, and Dr. Farah Ibrahim Alagar, a political activist. The men had returned from political negotiations in Addis Ababa where they supported the “Sudan Call,” an opposition declaration calling for democracy and an end to conflicts. The men were held incommunicado for 15 days, then transferred to Kober prison and charged with capital offenses. They were released on April 9, 2015, ahead of the elections.

“The Sudanese government needs to put a stop to the raids, detentions, trumped-up charges, and harsh beatings,” Bekele said. “The government should investigate allegations of mistreatment and hold the responsible officers to account.”