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Sudan

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Last updated on 17.09.2018 at 13:03

Sudan Overview

Authorities in Sudan violently repress any kind of opposition and dissent. Activists frequently face intimidation, arrest, detention, torture and government surveillance.

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Civil Society Shines A Light on Embattled Civic Space

Civil Society Shines A Light on Embattled Civic Space

On 9th September 2018 Sudan announced a new prime minister. Faced with rising inflation, fuel and food prices, President Omar al-Bashir appointed Motazz Moussa to solve the country's deepening economic crisis. As previously reported in the CIVICUS Monitor, violent protests over economic concerns have been rife. Yet, there is no sign that Moussa will ease restrictions on civil society.

Peaceful Assembly & Association

On 9th September 2018 Sudan announced a new prime minister. Faced with rising inflation, fuel and food prices, President Omar al-Bashir appointed Motazz Moussa to solve the country's deepening economic crisis. As previously reported in the CIVICUS Monitor, violent protests over economic concerns have been rife. Yet, there is no sign that Moussa will ease restrictions on civil society.

A recent letter to the Human Rights Council illustrates the severity of the situation. On 4th September 2018, 31 CSOs endorsed the text which decries the state of human rights in Sudan. In particular, the CSOs drew attention to the excessive use of force against protesters and challenges faced by civil society. The statement noted: 

"Our organisations are concerned about the suppression of peaceful protests by government security forces with unlawful use of excessive force, attacks on the media and impermissible restrictions on access to information, targeting of various civil society actors including human rights defenders, activists, journalists, bloggers and other dissenting voices with threats, intimidation, harassment, arbitrary detention and trumped-up criminal prosecutions, other restrictions on independent civil society..."

Ahead of the 39th session of the Human Rights Council, groups have also documented the harassment of activists. In August 2018, two members of the Darfur Bar Association (DBA) were detained upon their return to Sudan. The two activists were briefly detained and had their passports confiscated after receiving an award from the American Bar Association. This is not the first time Sudanese authorities have harassed activists from DBA. On 8th March 2018, the President of the DBA, Mohamed Aldouma was barred from travelling to Egypt to undergo medical treatment. CSOs have noted that this pattern of travel restrictions coerces activists from using international spaces to highlight human rights abuses in Sudan.

Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) continue to face systematic violations. In August 2018, The Women's Human Rights Defenders Middle East and North Africa (WHRD-MENA), drew attention to the harassment of WHRD Wini Omer. On 20th February 2018, Sudanese authorities burst into a meeting organised by Omer without a warrant and detained her for five days. The activist stands accused of running a brothel and drinking alcohol, a banned substance in Sudan for Muslims. Many civil society groups have drawn attention to the flimsy allegations brought against Omer. As a prominent WHRD, in 2017 she was awarded Mandela Washington fellowship for her work on human rights and women's issues in Sudan. At the first hearing of her case on 26th July 2018, the WHRD was told she could face further charges, including espionage against the state. If convicted, Omer could face the death penalty. WHRD-MENA reiterated calls for Sudanese authorities to drop all charges. 

This is not the first time Omer has been targeted. In December 2017, the WHRD was arrested and accused of wearing "indecent clothes." A judge later dropped the charges concluding her long skirt, scarf, and blouse were not indecent. Her repeated harassment has shed light on the threats facing WHRDs in Sudan. In 2016, more than 15,000 women were sentenced to flogging as a result of prosecutions brought under the public order law, or article 152 of Sudan's Criminal Code. The provision is often arbitrarily used to target WHRDs. WHRD-MENA commented on the law by saying: 

"The public order law explicitly discriminates against women, as most of its provisions are related to women’s agency: such as ‘indecency’, ‘scandalous outfits’, “women’s places’, women’s behaviour, and so on."

Omer's case continues. 

Expression

Freedom of expression in Sudan remains under pressure from state apparatus. As previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, the systematic confiscation of journals, magazines and newspapers coupled with restrictions on journalists leaves little space for independent journalism. More than ten papers were confiscated in August 2018. 

Throughout the month, Sudanese authorities seized Al-Jarida, Al-Ray Al-Aam and Al-Shaiha Newspapers after printing. The National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) regularly confiscate papers after publication to financially enfeeble and coerce critical outlets. In addition to this, on 31st August 2018, the NISS also banned a TV show. The Al-Midan Al-Sharqi talk show on Omdurman TV was unexpectedly cancelled after its host, Abdel-Bagi al-Zafir was informed that the show had been banned under NISS directives. No further explanation was given.  

More recently, on 8th September 2018, the NISS summoned a female journalist for interrogation. Lina Yacoub, the Chief-Editor of Baj News website was questioned for twelve hours before being released. Reports note that Baj News has gained prominence for covering issues of corruption in Sudan. It is also alleged that the NISS pressured Yacoub into revealing the sources of Baj News' information. 

The situation for journalists in Sudan has prompted a fightback from civil society. On 26th July 2018, three CSOs: Alkarama, the Arab Media Crisis Network and the Arab Coalition for Sudan called for UN Special Rapporteurs to condemn the poor respect for free expression in Sudan. Drawing attention to the treatment of another journalist, Ahmed Abakar, the three CSOs called upon the UN to denounce Sudanese authorities' aggressive stance toward critical journalists. Ahmed Abakar, has been harassed, threatened and banned from working by the NISS after writing political commentary on the situation in Sudan. He was summoned for interrogation on 5th May and 7th June 2018 and had his press card revoked on the 14th June 2018. He has been repeatedly threatened as a result of his journalistic work. 

Association in Sudan

While the national interim constitution provides guarantees for the right to freedom of association, legislation governing the formation and operation of organisations – including the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work Act – curtails the free exercise of the right in several ways.

While the national interim constitution provides guarantees for the right to freedom of association, legislation governing the formation and operation of organisations – including the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work Act – curtails the free exercise of the right in several ways. The Act employs an extremely narrow definition of civil society organisations and restricts them to humanitarian activities. Registration is mandatory and must be renewed annually. The authorities enjoy wide discretionary powers, allowing them to reject requests to establish organisations as well as to dissolve them. In addition, any proposed activity must obtain special approval from the National Intelligence and Security Service. Organisations are also required to obtain government permission to solicit and receive funds. In practice, only pro-government organisations are allowed to work freely whereas independent organisations are subject to numerous restrictions and face harassment and intimidation. In 2015 for example, the government revoked the license of the Civic Forum, the Sudanese Writers Union, and the Mahmoud Mohammed Taha Centre on the basis that they violated their registration licences. In February 2016, the National Intelligence and Security Services raided the office of Training and Human Development, where they confiscated documents and other materials. Later on, eight activists from the organisation were detained and charged with crimes against the state.

Peaceful Assembly in Sudan

The national interim constitution provides guarantees for the freedom of peaceful assembly but in practice the right is not respected in Sudan.

The national interim constitution provides guarantees for the freedom of peaceful assembly but in practice the right is not respected in Sudan. Legislation imposes severe penalties for any act that ‘is likely to breach the peace or public tranquillity’. Such vague wording deters people in the country from participating in protests and demonstrations. Long and exhaustive procedures are required to organise public gatherings and permission must be granted by the Minister of the Interior. When a protest does take place, Sudanese security services often respond by using excessive force. In February 2016, 15 female protestors were beaten by security forces and arrested. Moreover, two people were killed and dozens detained for months without charge, subjected to various forms of ill-treatment and put at risk of torture following a series of student protests in April 2016. The government accused the students of using violence and a 25-year old student, Asim Omer, was charged with murder after he participated in the protest.

Expression in Sudan

Article 39 of the national interim constitution safeguards the freedom of expression, but the legal environment remains restricted. The Press and Publications Law (2009) provides the state with power through the Press Council to monitor and censor press content.

Article 39 of the national interim constitution safeguards the freedom of expression, but the legal environment remains restricted. The Press and Publications Law (2009) provides the state with power through the Press Council to monitor and censor press content. This may result in the closure of newspapers and heavy fines on all those who infringe upon regulations and instructions. For example, the government temporarily suspended Al-Jarida in January after it reported on alleged corruption within the government. Journalists are subject to continual attacks, harassment, arbitrary arrests and interrogations. The state vigorously monitors printed and online media content, while print publications are scrutinised before being distributed and all electronic content is checked before being broadcast. The National Telecommunications Corporation has blocked websites that violate norms of public morality.Defamation is a criminal offense under the penal code. A new Freedom of Access to Information Law was passed in January 2015 with provisions that detail 12 types of information that are restricted from being accessed by citizens, which effectively makes the legislation a secrecy bill that legalises government restrictions on information.