Protesters show defiance to President Omar al-Bashir
Eight anti-government protesters were sentenced to jail in Sudan late Thursday, according to a report by the state media. It signals the first of such penalties handed down by emergency courts introduced by President Omar al-Bashir to repress rallies demanding an end to his time in office.
The eight were among hundreds who had taken to the streets earlier on Thursday in Khartoum and Omdurman, defying a ban on protests that first broke out in December over bread prices and have since gained momentum and presented a major challenge to Bashir’s three decades in power.
Singing and shouting their rallying cry of “freedom, peace, justice,” the crowds gathered in several districts of the two cities before being confronted by security forces with tear gas, witnesses said.
Bashir has not only abolished all unauthorised rallies but also given full powers to security forces to carry out personal searches and raids as part of the state of emergency imposed after an initial clampdown failed to calm the protests.
The eight protesters sent to jail for participating in protests were handed terms ranging from six months to five years by three separate courts in Khartoum set up on Tuesday to probe violations under the state of emergency imposed by Bashir to calm the protests.
Four were sentenced to five years in jail, while three got three years and one for six months, as reported by the official SUNA news agency, adding that they had been accused of violating a state of emergency order banning participation in protests.
In a separate statement, the Democratic Lawyers Alliance that is part of an umbrella group leading the movement against Bashir’s rule said 870 protesters were produced in emergency courts in Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman on Thursday.
It said the courts threw out cases against a large number of accused, but scores were sentenced to jail terms ranging from two weeks to one month.
Seemingly out of Options
Protesters had earlier expressed defiance as they took to the streets.
“We came out today because we have no alternative,” Siddiq, who gave only his first name for security reasons, said.
“The only alternative we have is to overthrow this regime. We will continue despite the state of emergency.”
Fatal clashes surrounding protests have rocked Sudan for more than two months, with demonstrators gathering since December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.
But years of anger over the country’s economic woes turned the protests into nationwide rallies against Bashir’s rule, with people calling on him to step down.
Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 have been killed, including medics and children.
The authorities have cracked down on demonstrations, detaining hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, activists, and journalists.
Sudanese government blames Western Interference
Hours after Bashir declared the state of emergency, security agents seized a prominent editor for critiquing the move in a televised interview.
Osman Mirghani, editor-in-chief of independent daily Al-Tayar, was taken away by security agents from his office, and his family said on Thursday they were still unaware of his whereabouts.
Bashir, who swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, has remained defiant in the face of protests.
Last week he also dissolved the federal and provincial governments and appointed 16 army officers and two officers from the feared National Intelligence and Security Service as provincial governors.
He has also pushed on with top-level changes to his administration that saw him sacking longtime ally and first vice president Bakri Hassan Saleh.
The United States, Britain, Norway, and Canada have criticised the state of emergency as a “return to military rule”.
“Allowing security forces to act with impunity will further erode human rights, governance, and effective economic management,” the four countries said in a joint statement Tuesday.
“The return to the military rule does not create a conducive environment for a renewed political dialogue or credible elections.”
Khartoum hit back at the rebuke on Wednesday, saying it was an “intervention” in the country’s internal affairs.
“The state of emergency will not impact freedoms of people and their rights,” the foreign ministry said.