Reign of Terror in Sudan: How the Government is Trying to Quell the Protests
Since the beginning if the current protests in Sudan on Monday, 23 September, 2013, the Sudanese government has deployed a comprehensive and ruthless security plan aimed at terrorizing the population and its political, civil society and media leaders, as well as the public into submission at any costs. Some of the tactics deployed are the following.
In a press conference held on 30 September, the Minister of Interior said the government was holding 700 detainees. This official figure reportedly retains only demonstrators arrested during the still ongoing protests, not political and civil society activists arbitrarily detained in successive waves since the beginning if the demonstrations. Operatives of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) unleashed the first of these waves immediately after President Omer al- Bashir's announcement of the lifting of fuel subsidies on Sunday, 22 September.
On Monday, 1 October, the government threw wider dragnet of preventive detentions targeting youth and political activists. This was a reaction to political and civil society actors stepping up their efforts to better coordinate among themselves in order to maintain the momentum of the protest and better focus its political messaging. For example, the entire leadership of the youth group "Sudan Change Now" was detained on 30 September. Political opposition leaders were targeted, and so were leading activists from students, women, and professional groups. Several reporters are among those detained. Some of the names and affiliations of those under detentions could be found here (Arabic).
The latest detentions are but an element in a wider terror campaign aimed at repressing the protests, other elements of which include:
Sexual violence against detainees
The threat and actual use of sexual violence against detainees has been a hallmark of the security services in Sudan. This current wave of repression is not different. A recent example is the reported case of Rania Mamoun, a journalist based in Medani, who was physically assaulted and threatened with gang rape. This is meant to dehumanize the victims and psychologically torture them. Many of the activists currently in detention are under threat of sexual violence.
The Intentional Use of Lethal Force Against Unarmed Protesters
It is credibly estimated that the number of those killed by security forces in the protest over the last week has surpassed 200. A partial list of the names of the victims could be found here. Amateur video footage, eyewitness reports, and photographic evidence uploaded by activists to the Internet, and medical sources, among others, have presented a disturbing trend of sniper shootings meant to kill. The extent of the practice clearly points to a plan to intimidate the population into submission out of fear of being killed. However, the practice has only contributed to fueling further unrest as each funeral only alienated the population further from the regime.
The government claimed that snipers affiliated with the Sudan Revolutionary Front were responsible for the limited number of casualties it was willing to admit. The Minister of Interior also claimed that the footage and photos of the victims of being circulated on social media were fabricated and were taken from Egypt. This drew him a rebuke on live TV of a reporter who asked loudly "why do you insist on lying, we have all witnessed what happened".
Display of Overwhelming Force:
NISS "Special Forces" and the much feared paramilitary Central Reserve Police were deployed in the capital to intimidate rebellious neighborhoods and preempt crowds from taking part in events that otherwise would trigger spontaneous protests. For example, a political rally held at the HQ of the National Umma Party on 1 October to commemorate those killed in the protests drew a crowd of up to a thousand according to reports. Surrounding the event were 60 "Technicals" of CRP and NISS Special Forces.
On Friday 28 September, an informant who drove around the sprawling capital said that there was an overwhelming display of force in the suburban residential areas that have witnessed the largest protests. Regime feared that worshippers would go into demonstrations after Friday prayer. There was intensive shooting of live ammunition in the air in many neighborhoods to intimidate people and ensure that they disperse to their homes and not to the streets. Also, these Special Forces would drive full speed in empty main streets in rebellious neighborhoods on their four wheel drives, all guns blazing and shooting in the air to give the population a taste of what awaits them if they started to demonstrate. However, in neighborhoods such as al-Thawra in Omdurman, people blocked all access to their area by burning tires and rubbish to block roads and engaging in running battles with the security forces.
Reducing the Local and Regional Press Into Silence
Throughout the past week, several newspapers editions were confiscated and others were forced to stop publishing all together. The offices of Al-Arabiya and Sky News Arabia offices were closed, and their correspondents were briefly summoned for questioning on their coverage of the events. Several reporters resigned, refusing to lend their names to articles they did not write that demeaned and insulted protesters. Voluntary closure of newspapers and services (Al-Ayam and Dar Tayba) by veteran editors refusing to compromise their professional integrity due to the physical deployment in editorial rooms of NISS censors. In a subversion of the famed Economist Style Manual and other professional journalistic aids, NISS censors reportedly distributed to editors and reporters a crude "Style Manual", instructing them on how to describe the events and those taking part in the protests. These would be "saboteurs" as a leading daily ran on its front page on 28 September.
Through the use of the aforementioned tactics, the Government of Sudan is using the myriad repression mechanisms in its possession. Killing peaceful, unarmed protestors is the pinnacle of human rights violations and disregard for the rule of law. Many of these tactics, which the government has been employing for years in Sudan’s periphery against the country’s marginalized populations, are now being used in Khartoum, the seat of its power. Despite its best attempt to muzzle the media, coverage of this recent wave of crackdowns is slowly trickling out.