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Sudan

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 02.12.2020 at 21:56

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Police use excessive force on protesters

Police use excessive force on protesters

Since the most recent Monitor update of October 2019, Sudan has experienced frequent protests, with thousands gathering to demand change, especially in regards to socio-economic conditions and the lack of political reforms in the country.

In advance of the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2020, DefendDefenders released a statement calling on the Council to continue supporting human rights reforms in the country. The 25 signatories of the statement confirmed that challenges remain and declared that:

"Significant steps are yet to be taken to address systemic human rights issues and achieve meaningful, sustainable progress, including justice and accountability for the egregious violations and abuses committed under the 30-year Al-Bashir dictatorship". 

Peaceful Assembly

Since the most recent Monitor update of October 2019, Sudan has experienced frequent protests, with thousands gathering to demand change, especially in regards to socio-economic conditions and the lack of political reforms in the country. 

Some of protests include the following incidents in which police used excessive force in 2020: 

  • In May and June 2020, thousand gathered in Khartoum to commemorate one year since 100 protesters were killed at a sit-in in the city. During these commemorative demonstrations, police used excessive force on protesters, beating, detaining, and using tear gas.
  • A protest camp in Darfur was attacked on 13th July and more than a dozen people killed. This camp, among others, had been established to call for improved conditions in the region and demand an end to attacks by armed groups. 
  • On 17th August, security forces fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters in Khartoum. They had gathered to protest the lack of progress in implementing changes in the country based on a power-sharing agreement signed one year ago. The police reportedly arrested dozens of protesters. 
  • On 27th August, four protesters were killed and six injured in eastern Sudan. The protest was over the appointment of a newly elected state governor. The protesters were reportedly shot by the new governor's supporters. 

Expression

Sudan ranks 159th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) most recent 2020 report. The country's longstanding abysmal press freedom record is largely a cumulation of 30 years of dictatorial rule under Omar al-Bashir. 2020 brought an improvement in the country's press freedom ranking, but while the pressure on independent journalists and media has eased after al-Bashir's removal, the government has not taken significant steps to improve the environment for freedom of expression and media pluralism, according to the press freedom watchdog (RSF). 

In a June 2020 statement, the International Press Institute (IPI) expressed concern over the press freedom situation in the country, citing cases of arrests, intimidation, and harassment of journalists. IPI called on the government to end its harassment of journalists and in particular to revoke a provision within the Dismantling of the Regime of 30th June 1989 Act, which penalises with up to ten year imprisonment for criticising the country's Empowerment Removal Committee (ERC), which has been tasked with dismantling institutions from al-Bashir's rule. The ERC has arrested a number of journalists for criticising its decisions and actions, according to IPI. 

Media outlets closed

On 8th January 2020, the authorities closed four media outlets for alleged financial issues; however, all four outlets had connections to the former al-Bashir government and may have been closed due to their affiliation with the previous regime. Press freedom watchdogs called on the authorities to preserve media pluralism and to assist the media sector in meeting the legal requirements to operate in the country. 

The right to free expression remains severely limited in Sudan, as detailed below, and COVID-related restrictions have only further limited the space for free speech and expression. The Sudanese Journalists' Network has repeatedly called for greater protection for journalists. The following incidents below detail some of the challenges journalists face in Sudan, including physical attacks and arbitrary detentions as well as accusations of crimes for exercising their fundamental right to free expression. 

  • On 23rd July 2020, newspaper photographer Mohamed El Amin Osheik was beaten by police then detained for photographing long queue at petrol stations.  
  • On 2nd September, police detained journalist Osman Hashim in Port Sudan on charges of ‘"information crimes" connected to his Facebook posts alleging corruption in the former governor’s office. He was later released on bail.

On World Press Freedom Day - 3rd May 2020 - Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok spoke about the need to improve freedom of expression and the media in Sudan. Sudan’s Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism, Feisal Mohamed Saleh, announced in September 2020 that the Ministry will conduct a full review and analysis of media-related legislation in the country. 

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.