Widespread protests in Sudan see excessive force and systematic repression of civic freedoms

Peaceful assembly

At least 40 protesters, including children, have been killed and dozens injured as a result of excessive use of force by state security forces in Sudan. Sudanese security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets to clamp down on a large-scale anti-government demonstrations ongoing across Sudan since 19 December 2018. The protests started in the northern Sudanese city of Atbara and spread to many other cities reaching to the capital Khartoum. Demonstrators mobilised calling for President Omar Al-Bashir to step down. More specifically, these demands reflect growing frustration over the dire economic and social situation as well as allegations of corruption in Sudan.

In response to the protests, Sudanese authorities have orchestrated mass arrests. Authorities confirmed that at least 816 people have been arrested up to 6th January 2019 in connection with the demonstrations. The crackdown has seen security forces arresting journalists, opposition leaders protestors, representatives of civil society and doctors.

Images and videos continue to be circulated through media providing evidence of state forces restricting basic peaceful assembly rights and use of violence against protesters. Doctors have also provided testimonial evidence of treating protestors suffering from injuries consistent with the use of live ammunition and allegations of protestors being directly targeted, stating many suffered of gunshots often to the head or upper part of the body.

Security forces have also attacked hospitals and medical staff. According to reports, injured protesters seeking treatment after the protests have been followed and attacked by security forces in hospitals. On 9 January 2019, Sudanese security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition inside the premises of the Omdurman Hospital. Doctors were also beaten in the ensuring fracas. Reports also suggest that on 13 January 2019 police fired tear gas inside Bahri Teaching Hospital and Haj Al-Safi Hospital in Khartoum North area where a huge protest was organised by opposition groups.

In light of this severe repression of civic rights, regional CSOs have been quick to coordinate a solidarity response. CIVICUS Monitor research partner, the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) issued an Urgent Appeal supported by other regional and national networks and over 600 individuals. The text called on the Sudanese authorities to respect, protect and fulfil people's rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

A number of solidarity statements were also issued, calling for an immediate independent and transparent investigation into the events. 

Similarly, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the Independent Expert on situation in Sudan at the Human Rights Council issued a joint statement expressing grave concern. They said:

"Dissent must be tolerated and not restrained with excessive force which can lead to loss of life. I strongly urge the Sudanese security forces to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid the escalation of violence and take immediate measures to protect the right to life of the demonstrators"

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet further condemned Sudan's "repressive response" to the demonstrations.

"The government needs to ensure that security forces handle protests in line with the country's international human rights obligations by facilitating and protecting the right to peaceful assembly."

Expression

The protests have also seen the Sudanese authorities take systematic measures to silence media outlets, journalists and civil society.

Sudanese authorities, especially the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), have been alleged to have “done everything possible to prevent journalists from covering the protests”. In particular, journalists have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and attacks. As previously reported by the CIVICUS Monitor, the NISS has a well-documented track record of coercing and harassing independent outlets and journalists.

According to the Reporters without Borders (RSF), since the protests began on 19 December 2018, more than 90 press freedom violations have been registered by the organisation. These include 62 arrests and 21 seizures of newspapers by the NISS. In light of the increased number of arrests and attacks, the Sudanese Journalists’ Network stated:

“A number of journalists have been brutally assaulted and insulted by officers of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) for no reason other than carrying out their professional duty to cover peaceful protests. They were detained and released after hours.”

Most recently, on 15 January 2019 a total of 28 journalists were reportedly arrested while taking part in a peaceful sit-in outside the NISS’ Khartoum headquarters to protest the Al-Jareeda’s paper’s almost daily confiscation in recent weeks.

As previously reported by the CIVICUS Monitor, confiscation of newspapers is regularly used to censor independent outlets in Sudan. During these protests, a similar campaign was launched as the NISS imposed a "strict prior-publication censorship" mainly targeting daily newspapers El Tayyar and Al-Jareeda. Since the unrest began in December 2018, Al-Jareeda has been confiscated 11 times by the NISS. Moreover, the government-controlled Press and Publications Council filed a complaint against Al Arabiya TV office in Sudan and its correspondent in Khartoum under article 66 of the Criminal Code, concerning the publication of false news, which carries a penalty of six months’ imprisonment or a fine or both.

Association

Civil society activists have also been arrested in the sweeping mass arrests after the protests. On 3 January 2019, local sources alleged that members of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) raided the headquarters of the National Civic Forum in Khartoum and arrested its director Dr Hasan Abdelati, Ambassador Ibrahim Taha and Professor Montasir El Tayeb who is a professor of genetics at the University of Khartoum.