Protesters killed, WHRDs and journalists arrested as protests rock Sudan

Peaceful Assembly

Since January 2018, protests have been raging in several Sudanese cities over the high price of goods and services. Reports note the use of excessive force in multiple locations, as the Sudanese authorities used tear gas and baton charges to quell the mounting mobilisations. As the situation escalated, three people were reportedly killed during clashes with Sudanese security forces. Members of political opposition were also arrested. On 7th January 2018, Omar Al-Dageir, the president of one of the country’s largest opposition groups the Sudanese Congress Party, was arrested for allegedly encouraging the unrest. In the ensuing crackdown, reports from the ground note that by 23rd January 2018, 306 individuals linked to political opposition groups had been detained. Reports also allege that in January, Sudanese authorities blocked six newspapers from circulation to muzzle reports of the scale of the unrest. More information on the situation can be seen in the video below: 

Sparked by the government's austerity measures, the protests erupted shortly after the 2018 budget was approved. Also known as the "bread protests”, the unrest has shed light on the rising cost of living amid the devaluation of the Sudanese pound due to high inflation. Despite the rising tensions, Sudanese authorities maintain that the demonstrations were not linked to the cost of bread and other goods.

Violence and force were used by Sudanese security forces in response to protests and several human rights defenders were arrested. A timeline by the Regional Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa highlights how women human rights defenders (WHRD) in particular have been targeted:

  • On 10th January 2018, Sudanese authorities directed their forces to attack a vigil organised by the “No to Women Oppression Initiative” and arrested more than ten WHRDs, including Ihsan Fakiri, director of the initiative, as well as Najla Nurin, Rashida Shamselddine and Ihsan Kzam. The authorities released them after five hour in detention. However, since their arrests, they have been summoned on a daily basis to the security services, along with WHRD Ihsan Abdelaziz, who has been summoned daily since 12th of December 2017.
  • On 16th January 2018, Sudanese authorities arrested more than 100 protesters. Most of them were released after more than nine hours in detention, with the exception of journalist Amal Habbani, an internationally-acclaimed WHRD who won the “Ginetta Sagan Award” due to her work in promoting equality and justice for women in Sudan, and Director of Sima For Training and Protection of Women and Children’s Rights Nahed Jabrallah. Jabrallah is currently in poor health, suffering from a fractured leg and hand. Reports also allege Habbani was tortured during her interrogation.
  • On 17th January 2018, the authorities arrested Heba Dafallah, nicknamed “Abouni”, a student at al Ahfad University, along with WHRD Mahdiya who was arrested for a day after participating in demonstrations.
  • By 19th February 2018, 80 detained activists involved in the "bread protests" were released.

Expression

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, restrictions on media freedom have also taken place amidst the unrest reported above. Reporters Without Borders noted that at least 15 journalists were arrested while covering the protests, including:

Reports note that while many of these journalists were released within a few hours, eight were held without charge until late February. Some remain in detention with little information on their whereabouts. In this context of increasing persecution of media workers, the Sudanese Journalist's Network strongly condemned the actions of the Sudanese authorities. The Network's statement on 17th February 2018 can be viewed in the tweet below: 

International freedom of speech advocates have also expressed their concerns. On 11th January 2018, the European Union Delegation in Sudan urged Sudanese authorities to uphold commitments to freedom of speech and plurality of opinion. The EU's statement declared that: 

"We consider it crucial that people are permitted to exercise their right to freedom of expression, including freedom of the media and of political participation. At the same time, we urge those exercising their fundamental rights to express their opinions peacefully".

The statement comes at a time when Sudan was recently rated as one of the worst countries in the world for media freedom, ranking 174 out of 180 countries assessed.