Protests in Sudan continue amid crackdown and internet blackout

Peaceful Assembly

Defiant protesters face bullets, tear gas and beatings

In the latest mass protests in Sudan that took place on 30th June 2019, at least eleven people were killed, according to the pro-opposition group Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (CCSD), while over 180 were injured. According to reports by CCDS, disseminated through their twitter account, many of the injuries were caused by tear gas canisters, live ammunition or through beatings with sticks.

Despite the Sudanese security forces’ violent crackdown of the peaceful sit-in on 3rd June 2019 in Khartoum, Sudanese people continued to mobilise to demand that the military hand over power to a civilian-led administration. Since the access of internet had been cut off following the sit-in on 3rd of June, people mobilised mainly through spreading information through brochures and encouraging protests through messages on murals and graffiti.

On 30th June 2019, tens of thousands of protesters rallied across the capital Khartoum in what they call the “millions march”. Security forces used excessive force against the protesters, including the use of tear gas, and in some instances live ammunition. Reports indicate that tear gas was used by the security forces to disperse demonstrators near the presidential palace and three other districts in Khartoum, Omdurman and the eastern town of Gadaref.

Protest leaders accuse the military generals for the deaths of protesters, while the ruling Transitional Military Council blamed the main opposition group and “infiltrators, people who want to jeopardise progress” for the violence and deaths.

The United States condemned the violence against civilians, putting the responsibility on the security forces. A US State Department official said to the news outlet Voice of America (VOA):

“Sudanese security forces’ use of live ammunition against peaceful protesters was reprehensible, and military authorities should be held accountable for the resulting deaths.”

Solidarity protests by Sudanese diaspora were held in other countries around the world and through the social media using the global support hashtag #blueforsudan.

The excessive force used, once again, against the peaceful resistance movement, came despite reiterated calls by the international community to the Transitional Military Council to respect people’s freedom of peaceful assembly and expression and restrain from using force.

Statement by the so-called Troika (a group comprised of the governments of United Kingdom, United States and Norway) stated:

“The Sudanese people have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. The Transitional Military Council should respect these rights, permit peaceful protests, and avoid any use of violence."

This was reiterated by other international actors, such as the European Union, who said:

"It is the duty of the Transitional Military Council (TMC) to ensure the safety of all in Sudan and to refrain from any use of violence against protesters.”

Update on the 3rd June 2019 violent crackdown on peaceful protest: sexual violence against protesters and abuse against children

In the meantime, more reports continue toemerge of violations,including allegations of sexual violence, perpetrated by security forces during the clearance operation of the peaceful sit-in outside the Sudan’s Defence Ministry in central Khartoum on 3rd June 2019. As covered bythe CIVICUS Monitor, during this crackdown at least 100 protesters were killed and hundreds injured. The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), under the command of the Deputy of the Transitional Military Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo or “Hemeti", has been blamed by eyewitnesses for the violence against peaceful protesters on 3rd June 2019.

Medics provided credible accounts of members of the RSF raping protesters, including gang rape of men and women, including female doctors during the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters on 3rd June 2019. According to estimates made by doctors, RSF paramilitaries committed more than 70 rapes during the attack on the protest camp and its immediate aftermath. Medics accounts confirm many similar allegations made by eyewitnesses through social media. However, the extent of the sexual violence during the operation remains unknown.

UNICEF further raised also concerns at the “impact of the continuing violence and unrest in the country on children and young people” since 3rd June 2019 and warned that “at least 19 children have reportedly been killed in Sudan and another 49 have been injured”. “We have received information that children are being detained, recruited to join the fighting and sexually abused. Schools, hospitals and health centres have been targeted, looted and destroyed. Health workers have been attacked simply for doing their job.”, UNICEF said.

On 12th June 2019, several United Nations experts appointed by the Human Rights Council in Geneva, expressed serious concern with the “scale and seriousness of the reported human rights violations and the need to act quickly to prevent further escalation”. They urged the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into the violations against peaceful protesters since the start of the year. The UN experts, part of the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, included the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Sudan; the Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and the Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice.

Additionally, the UN experts urged the authorities “to ensure that security forces handle protests in line with the country’s international human rights obligations."

Similar calls for international investigations have been made also by the Alliance for Freedom and Change, the pro-democracy protest umbrella group, as well as by international human rights NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch. However, Sudan’s military government, the TMC, rejected an international inquiry and denied allegations of rape and downplayed the number of protesters killed during the 3rd June 2019 violent crackdown in Khartoum.

Expression 

The Transitional Military Council (TMC) continued to violate the freedom of expression as they ordered the shutdown of the internet, cancelled press conferences and restricted media freedom. During the past month, several freedom of expression violations occurred including:

On 29th June 2019, members of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces reportedly raided a press conference, organised by protest leaders preventing them from addressing journalists on the evening before the mass rally. A Sudanese journalist told media that armed men had prevented him together with other journalists from attending the briefing held in Khartoum's eastern district of Burri.

The internet service has been disconnected completely since 10th June 2019 following an order by the TMC. On 27th June, the director of the Sudanese Telecommunication and Postal Regulatory Authority confirmed that access to internet services had been cut off throughout the country at the request of the TMC. The move has been widely condemned by regional and international human rights NGOs, who say that it is not only a direct violation of freedom of expression, but that it has also prevented people from reporting critical information on human rights abuses. Additionally, also it is seen as a dangerous step which has put citizens at further security risks as it prevents access to vital emergency information. On 10th June 2019, NetBlocks, a civil society group monitoring internet censorship, announced that Sudan faces a “near-total restriction” on internet access in the country. Mobile internet connectivity has been largely offline across Sudan since 3rd June 2019 amid attacks and violence by the paramilitary forces on pro-democracy sit-ins in Khartoum.

On 1st July 2019, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet” that unequivocally condemned inter alia "measures [taken by States] to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online, in violation of international human rights law", and called on "all States to refrain from and cease such measures".

In addition to the above restrictions, state forces were alleged of harassing and arbitrary arresting journalists, as well as journalists being dismissed after participating in the protests or for their critical reporting of the security forces. The Sudanese Journalists Network (SJN) warned about “mass dismissal processes” of media workers at the official media institutions, in particular the national Sudan Television, which the SJN saw as a move to "open the door to the return of elements of the ousted regime who will use the newsrooms again to falsify facts and mislead the public opinion with fake information.”

  • On 26th June 2019, six staff members of the Sudanese national TV station were banned from entering the offices in Omdurman for an indefinite period by the Military Intelligence and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), after having participated in the protests.
  • In June 2019, the editor-in-chief of El Sayha newspaper, Abdelrahman el Amin, was dismissed after he criticised the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and its leader, Lt Gen Mohamed Hamdan (known as Hemeti), the deputy chairman of the Transitional Military Council.
  • Mohamed Latif, founder and director of Teeba Press, an organisation that trains journalists, was summoned by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) on a daily basis since 15th June, according to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF). A number of other journalists were detained and questioned by the NISS. 

Association 

According to media reports and the Sudan protest group, the Sudanese Professionals' Association, security forces arrested at least four opposition leaders, prior to and immediately after the 30th June 2019 mass protests.

Two of the arrests were made by the security forces on 28th June 2019, prior to the protest.

On 2nd July 2019, the Sudanese Professionals' Association, which has led the protests, reported that two opposition leaders were arrested: Yasin Hassan, head of SPA's teachers committee was arrested in Khartoum; and Abdul Majed Eidros, a lawyer and a leading member of the opposition group, was arrested from his house in Atbarah. The security forces also reportedly searched the houses of three other opposition leaders in Khartoum.