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79 activists detained incommunicado amidst heavy crackdown on popular protests in Sudan

The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) is deeply concerned for the safety of 79 individuals who are currently detained incommunicado following a recent government crackdown in response to popular protests against increase in prices of basic commodities that have occurred across Sudan since the beginning of January.

ACJPS has continued to monitor the situation of protests that have occurred across Sudan since the start of the New Year following recent austerity measures that caused a drastic increase in prices of basic commodities, after the recent devaluing of the Sudanese Pound and increases in custom tax. Sudanese authorities have continued to use excessive force and carried out a campaign of massive arrests and detention, including incommunicado, of opposition political party leaders, journalists, students, human rights defenders/activists and other individuals for their involvement or suspected involvement in the protests.

Since 6 January, ACJPS has received disturbing reports on arbitrary arrests and detention, including incommunicado, ill-treatment and torture of individuals involved or suspected of being involved in the protests. On 12 January, ACJPS documented the arbitrary detention of 18 individuals, including opposition political party leaders, students and activists, suspected of leading or coordinating the protests in various states across Sudan and post print-censorship of eight newspapers for their coverage of the peaceful protests.

In a report published today, ACJPS documents the arrest of 131 individuals for their involvement or suspected involvement in the protests from 13-21 January 2016. Of the 131 individuals arrested, 79 are currently held incommunicado by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). The police and the NISS have used excessive force to disperse and arrest protestors, including the reported use tear gas and beatings with sticks and water hose pipes. ACJPS has received disturbing reports of individuals being subjected to ill-treatment or torture whilst in detention and during the dispersal of protests. The NISS have also applied post-print censorship to newspapers that have attempted to cover the mass arbitrary arrests and heavy crackdown of the protests.

The report provides the names of 131 individuals who were arrested, including those who remain in detention and at risk of torture in NISS custody, on account of their involvement, or presumed involvement in the protests. In the overwhelming majority of cases documented by ACJPS, the detainees have been held in the custody of NISS without charge or access to lawyers or family visits. The lack of access for lawyers and family members to the detainees, together with the well-documented use by the NISS of torture and other forms of ill-treatment against detainees, particularly whilst held in unknown locations, gives rise to serious concerns for their safety.

ACJPS observed that during the crackdown on the protests, high-ranking officials in the NISS and Police looked the other way as their subordinates beat up protestors. It was also observed that some NISS members disguised their faces with a cloth making it difficult to identify them. NISS has targeted opposition political party leaders, journalists, human rights defenders/activists, students and others suspected of leading or coordinating the protests.

Under the 2010 National Security Act (NSA), detainees can be held for up to four and a half months without judicial review.  ACJPS views the detention of the group to have no legitimate legal basis, and to be based solely on the peaceful expression of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

The Government’s response to the growing public unrest as a result of the recent austerity measures violates numerous rights including the right to freedom of assembly, association and expression, right to personal liberty, prohibition against torture and ill-treatment, among others, guaranteed in Sudan’s Interim National Constitution, 2005.

ACJPS is deeply concerned about the authorisation and continued use of excessive force by authorities to crackdown protests in Sudan. The policing of assemblies must respect human rights and must be carried out in accordance with international standards, which prohibit the use of force unless strictly necessary and proportionate. Sudanese authorities should ensure that police and other security services responsible for policing demonstrations or performing other law enforcement duties comply with international standards on the use of force. It should be made clear that arbitrary or abusive use of force by security forces will be punished as a criminal offence.

ACJPS is further concerned about the physical and psychological well-being of the 79 individuals who remain in detention and at risk of torture. We urge the Government of Sudan to guarantee the physical safety of those in custody, grant the detainees immediate and unequivocal access to their lawyers and family members, and release them in the absence of valid legal charges consistent with international standards. If such charges exist, the detainees should be brought promptly before an impartial, independent and competent tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times.

ACJPS reiterates previous calls to the Government of Sudan to immediately end its policies of pre- and post- print censorship of newspapers, which severely circumscribes the availability of information in the public sphere and hinders freedom of expression and access to information. We recommend that the Sudanese Government provide compensation to the various newspapers for financial loss incurred as a result of the confiscations.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS).
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