(Kampala) – Sudanese security agents have arrested, detained, and interrogated at least 17 members of opposition parties since early August 2015. Most of those arrested are affiliated with the Sudanese Congress Party (SCP), which has an active student and youth wing and conducts public rallies and events.
The Sudanese government should stop arresting and detaining members of opposition parties simply for expressing their political views and participating in public forums, the groups said. It should also reform its abusive national security service, and hold those responsible for human rights violations to account.
“Sudan’s national security officials are abusing people just for expressing their political views,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should put an end to these tactics, rein in the national security service, and uphold free speech and assembly.”
Several of those detained told Human Rights Watch and the ACJPS that they were subjected to violence and other abuse, including severe beatings by heavily armed National Intelligence and Security Service personnel. Most were released after being interrogated for several hours overnight, but were required to report back daily to the security service for further interrogations.
The recent arrests are part of a disturbing pattern of harassment and arbitrary detention of political opposition members to punish them for speaking out on political issues, the groups said. Between February and April, the authorities arrested and detained dozens of people both before and after the general elections in which President Omar al-Bashir was re-elected. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
On the morning of August 5, 2015, eight armed security agents arrested Khalid Omer Yousif, a leader in the Congress Party, at his home in the al-Jereif suburb of Khartoum. They detained him until midnight and questioned him about his speech at an event he attended. They have also summoned him daily for further questioning and confiscated his car, his entire family’s identification documents, and his cellphone.
On the morning of August 8, security officials arrested Magdi Okasha, 33, and Widad Abdelrahman Derwish, 30, both members of the Congress Party who had attended recent public events. Magdi was arrested at his home by about 10 agents, while Widad was summoned by phone. Upon their release, they were ordered to report every day to the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
On the evening of August 17, three armed security officials arrested Wifag Mohamed Gorashi, 23, a student at Khartoum University, days after she spoke at a public event. The agents detained her for several hours and interrogated her about her links to the party.
Security officials also arrested two university students that day, in El Obeid market in North Kordofan after they participated in a public gathering organized by the Congress Party. A group of plainclothes agents arrested Mohamed Osman, 22, and Bashir Mohamed, 23, and later released them with instructions to return in the morning for further questioning.
On the evening of August 22, about 15 security agents armed with pistols and Kalashnikovs arrested eight Congress party members, four of them from Darfur, after they participated in a symposium at the party headquarters in Khartoum north. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch and ACJPS that the officers forced the men to stop their car, beat them with sticks and water pipes, and punched and stomped on them while arresting them and taking them to the intelligence agency office. Two detainees suffered head injuries. Five were released after a few hours, at around 3 a.m., and the others the following afternoon.
The same evening, also in Khartoum north, about eight agents armed with pistols arrested two other party members who had attended the symposium. Mohammed Noor Terab and Mohammed Elraddi Salim, members of the party from Wad Banda, North Kordofan, were shoved into a security agency pick-up truck and beaten on the way to the agency’s office. They were beaten with water pipes during interrogations, then released at about 2 a.m.
Previous arrests include three members – Mastor Ahmed Mohammed, Asim Omer Hassan, and Ibrahim Mohamed Zain – for participating in an event after the April elections, calling for the release of detained party members. On July 6, the three men were convicted of disturbing the public peace and sentenced to 20 lashings without legal representation or an opportunity to appeal.
In June and July 2014, ACJPS documented the roundup of at least 28 Congress party members following the arrest of the party leader, Ibrahim Elsheikh on June 8. Elsheikh was arrested the day after he publicly criticized the government’s Rapid Support Forces at a party symposium in Al Nuhud, West Kordofan. He was charged with six offenses, including undermining the constitutional order, which carries the death penalty. All charges were later dropped and he was released on September 15.
In one especially violent example in 2014, Hassan Ishag, a journalist and party member who had attended the June 7 symposium and reported Elsheikh’s detention on social media, was arrested by plainclothes police officers on June 10. Ishag was beaten and kicked during interrogations, causing him to lose consciousness. He was then transferred to prison and detained without charge under the 1997 Emergency Act. He was released on September 19, 2014.
Intelligence agents also arrested three members of the Liberal Democratic Party on August 17, 2015, following an event at the Haq party headquarters in Khartoum. One of the detainees told Human Rights Watch that the officers questioned them for several hours about the party’s activities and work in Darfur, while beating them and forcing them to endure very cold temperatures or stand under the hot sun. The three were released after two days and ordered to return for more questioning over the following days.
The NISS has broad powers of arrest and can hold people for up to four and a half months without judicial review, well beyond the international standard. Amendments to the constitution in January 2015 further empowered the agency, by designating it a regular security force with a broader mandate to combat a range of political and social threats and take precautionary measures against them. The service is known for its abusive tactics, including torture, against real or perceived political opponents.
“The continuous arrests and harassment underscore an urgent need to reform Sudan’s draconian security service in line with international norms,” said Katherine Perks, ACJPS Programme Director. “Sudan should immediately stop the abuses, reform the security service, and hold abusive officers to account for these actions.”