December 26, 2018 update | https://wp.me/p45rOG-2kH
First posted December 20, 2018, 10:45 EST | https://wp.me/p45rOG-2kh
We now have a great many reports of the violence, arrests, and news censorship over the past several days. The latter includes the arrests/beatings of scores of journalists around the country and expulsion of non-Sudanese journalists. Political leaders have also been arrested and are is ongoing Internet blocking as well as blocking of social media platforms. Telephone service has also been reported as unreliable or unavailable.
These are all the actions a repressive regime might undertake to protect itself; but the use of murderous gunfire by security forces is particularly notable. There are many photographs of snipers strategically positioned in Khartoum; a trained sniper with a sniper rifle and scope can easily target a human head in close urban quarters. Unsurprisingly, we have seen on social media (when possible) a shocking number of bullet wounds to the head—typically fatal—of young men…disproportionately young men. This is not an accident and strongly suggests that “shoot to kill” orders have already been given, or at least discretion to use targeted lethal force. Radio Dabanga reports today:
Doctors from Khartoum who treated demonstrators confirmed that the security forces used excessive violence and were “shooting to kill.”
As of December 25, 2018, Amnesty International had received credible reports of 37 people killed at the hands of security forces. That number was likely low at the time and has now certainly been greatly surpassed. But with the savage crackdown on journalists as well as communication means, we can’t have anything like a definite mortality total. But many of those reported as “severely wounded” have likely died, and we simply don’t have information from a number of major locations of the protests.
The Larger Picture
We are no closer to seeing with any clarity what the political maneuvering is, given the palpable weakness of President al-Bashir. Senior members of National Congress Party are always difficult to read, but particularly so now. Voices of support for al-Bashir do not seem to be numerous. The Sudan Armed Forces seems to be hedging its bet, but may still decide to orchestrate a “palace coup”—or perhaps a transitional civilian government, in the best case (if least likely) scenario. It’s important to remember that many senior officers have been complicit in the Darfur genocide and are under investigation by the International Criminal Court; they want to ensure their own survival with any regime change. But many middle-ranking and junior officers in the SAF are sick of the regime, its endless wars against people of the peripheries, and defections are quite likely.
The National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) is particularly opaque, and the head of NISS—Salah Gosh—has certainly not forgotten that al-Bashir removed him during his previous tenure in the job on suspicion that he might have been part of a coup effort. NISS deliberations are perhaps the most opaque of all.
The Rapid Support Forces, led by Lt-General Mohammed Hamdan Doglo (more commonly known as “Hemeti”), is a third major wild card among the armed elements near Khartoum (Hemeti addressed his forces about 15 miles south of Khartoum on December 25, 2018. In the morning Hemeti made a provocative declaration to his troops, implying that he and the RSF would soon be the power to reckon with in Sudan. By late in the day his tune had changed quite a bit, judging from the release by Rapid Support Forces spokesman Al Swarmi Khaled Saad (former chief spokesman for the Sudan Armed Forces). Perhaps Hemeti ran into more opposition than he had reckoned on in the midst of the massive civilian uprising in Khartoum and elsewhere, and the afternoon statement release reflected a backdown from the morning’s insubordination.
The power configuration of the police, the Rapid Support Forces, the Sudan Armed Forces, and the National Intelligence Services is unclear at this point—and again, political divisions within the regime itself are largely opaque. There is tremendous pressure on al-Bashir coming from a number of directions, and it is difficult to see how he survives the present crisis. The question, of course, is whether the people of Sudan will see themselves represented in a new configuration of political power—or whether we will simply have the face of a new tyranny.
[Text of RSF statement of January 25, 2018 at | https://wp.me/p45rOG-2kH ]
Fighting to Throw off Tyranny
I believe the most important statement by the civilian political opposition to al-Bashir’s regime comes in a dispatch from Associated Press (December 27, 2018, Cairo):
“Today, we the Sudanese people … have crossed the point of no return on the path of change,” a coalition of professional unions that organized Tuesday’s march said in a statement afterward. “We will pursue all options of peaceful, popular actions … until we bring down the regime that continues to shed blood. Today, more than any time before, we are confident in our collective ability to realize that.”
[Below is a compendium of the most recent news reports from various sources; all emphases in bold have been added–ER]:
• “Excessive violence” used to quell march in Sudan capital | Radio Dabanga, December 27, 2018| KHARTOUM
Teachers, medical professionals, and journalists have reported that the Sudanese authorities used ‘excessive force and violence’ against members of the public who participated in the march organised by the Sudan Professionals Association in Khartoum on Tuesday, which demanded the step-down of President Omar Al Bashir and overthrow of the regime.
In an interview with Radio Dabanga, teacher Duriya Babikir she said that agents of the security apparatus, wearing uniforms, as well as snipers on the roofs of high buildings, fired live bullets at the peaceful demonstrators, wounding about 10 of them. She added that police and security forces fired various types of tear gas, leading to breathing problems and fainting among the demonstrators.
Security troops also arrested a large number of demonstrators and severely beat them with batons and used electric wires as whips.
“Shooting to kill”
Doctors from Khartoum who treated demonstrators confirmed that the security forces used excessive violence and were “shooting to kill.” One of the protestors was hit in the neck. Another was shot in his head.
They described what had happened as “a real tragedy”. Yasir Abdallah, journalist of El Sudani newspaper said he was beaten with rifle butts on his head by an armed group driving a Hilux. They insulted him, called his mother a prostitute. He said some wore civilian clothes. “Others wore police uniforms, although their behaviour showed they were not policemen. Moreover, they were wearing sandals and not shoes as policemen should.”
News Paper Siezed
On Wednesday, officers of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) confiscated El Jareeda newspaper at the printing press for the third day in a week for refusing to publish the rectification set by the security apparatus concerning the protest march in Khartoum on Tuesday.
The banned copies covered the demonstration on Tuesday and Amnesty International’s report on the number of people killed in the various protests in the country.
Questions in Parliament
On Wednesday, MPs put “an urgent question” to the Speaker of Parliament in Omdurman about the shooting at the demonstrators and the large number of detentions. The MPs wondered about the killers. “To whom do they belong? And what measures have been taken to prevent repeating attacks on the demonstrators exercising their constitutional and legal rights.” On Wednesday, the Parliament approved the summoning of the Minister of the Interior, for questions about the killing and arrest of demonstrators in various places in the country.
Popular Congress Party
The opposition Popular Congress Party condemned the killing of demonstrators and the violence against them, and called on the government to conduct an investigation into the events. In a press conference on Wednesday, Idris Suleiman, the political secretary of the party, said that 17 protestors were killed, 88 were injured and 519 people were arrested, most of whom were released again.
Suleiman called on the government to conduct an urgent investigation into the deaths of the demonstrators and release the rest of the detainees, stressing that there is no justification for the arrests. He stressed his party’s categorical rejection of violence and the suppression of demonstrations, pointing out that the demonstrations have nothing to do with Israel, any agents or mercenaries.
He expressed his concern at the lack of seriousness of the government in reducing government spending, and accused the government of mismanagement and a lack of sense for the problems of the people, and demanded the rulers “not to bury their heads in the sand”.
• Sudan expels Arab journalist for covering protests, Sudan Tribune | December 26, 2018 (KHARTOUM)
The London-based Alaraby TV Wednesday said that the Sudanese authorities prevented its team from covering demonstrations in Sudanese cities and ordered its correspondent to leave the country within 24 hours.
On Tuesday several reporters mentioned brutality by security agents while covering the recent demonstrations that took place in Khartoum to protest the difficult living conditions saying they confiscated their mobile telephone and deleted the pictures also some were arrested and other beaten violently.
In a clip posted on the social media, Adnan Jan said he arrived in Khartoum on Tuesday morning on the same day and started the coverage of the protests but after his first reportage he was summoned by the security service. “They ordered me to leave the country immediately and asked me to sign a commitment that I would never exercise my profession as a journalist from Khartoum,” he said.
“We call on the Sudanese authorities to lift the ban on Alaraby TV (local) team in Khartoum,” he further said.
In a separate statement, the pan-Arab TV media said the Sudanese satellite services company, which deals with Alaraby TV was also ordered to not air any reporting from the local team of the channel in relation to covering the demonstrations and protests. The Alaraby TV which is established by former journalists of Al-Jazeera TV to promote change issues and sees itself as a “backer of Arab popular revolutions demanding freedom, justice and dignity,” according to its director Abbas Nassir.
Al-Jazeera TV correspondent in Khartoum Ahmed al-Rahaid and his team were also harassed by the security service during their coverage of the protests.
Also, a Sudanese journalist of Al-Sudani newspaper, Yasir Abdalla was brutally beaten by armed men in plain clothes while he was outside the newspaper building. The journalist who was monitoring the demonstrators was taken to a vehicle without registration plates and beat and insulted him before he was released. A number of journalists including Azmi Abdel Razek, Tariq Mohamed Osman, Hajo al-Aqra, Mohamed Daoud narrated on the social media platforms that they had taken from the protests by the security forces and subjected to beatings and abuse by the security agents.
In January 2018, the Sudanese security service arrested 15 journalists while they were covering protests against the rising living prices.
• Doctors’ strike widens in Sudan | Radio Dabanga, December 27, 2018 | EL GEDAREF / KASSALA / PORT SUDAN
The strikes by doctors and medical staff in solidarity with the anti-government protests have spread further across Sudan this week. Yesterday, doctors and medical students of the Faculty of Medicine in El Gedaref held a protest in front of the El Gedaref Teaching Hospital in solidarity with the march organised by the Sudan Professionals Association in Khartoum on Tuesday, which demanded the step-down of President Omar Al Bashir and overthrow of the regime.
Witnesses from El Gedaref said that security forces and policemen forced the doctors to enter the hospital again before blocking traffic to the main road to the hospital. Several shops were shut after the hospital road was closed. Witnesses said the doctors announced a strike except on emergency cases.
The doctors of Kassala Hospital laid down their tools on Tuesday. They notified the hospital administration that they will deal with emergencies only.
As previously reported by Radio Dabanga, doctors and lawyers in Port Sudan, capital of Red Sea state, organised two separate protest vigils on Tuesday. The vigils were dispersed by police using tear gas.
• Sudan’s protests point to weaknesses in Bashir’s rule | ASSOCIATED PRESS, December 27, 2018 (Cairo)
In this July 9, 2018 file photo, Sudan’s President Omar Bashir attends a ceremony for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey. Bashir is one of the Middle East’s longest ruling leaders and has crushed two previous bouts of protests in recent years. He may do so yet again, but the eruption in December 2018 of protests in his country point to fraying in support by those who have helped keep his grip on power.
Sudan’s Omar Bashir fended off a march by opponents on his presidential palace in the capital, Khartoum, unleashing his security forces in hopes of putting an end to an Arab Spring-style uprising. But nearly a week of protests has pointed to the weaknesses threatening his 29-year hold on power.
Despite the heavy hand of police, who have reportedly killed at least 37 protesters, Bashir’s response has been feeble. He left the capital ahead of Tuesday’s march on his palace, and he has been fumbling and vague in addressing the economic crisis that prompted the outburst of anger.
Perhaps most alarming for Bashir, an Islamist who came to power in a 1989 military coup, the powerful military and security agencies have only voiced half-hearted support for him amid the turmoil.
On the streets, the lengthy battles with police on Tuesday in Khartoum may have only emboldened Sudanese to take on the security forces again. “Today, we the Sudanese people … have crossed the point of no return on the path of change,” a coalition of professional unions that organized Tuesday’s march said in a statement afterward. “We will pursue all options of peaceful, popular actions … until we bring down the regime that continues to shed blood. Today, more than any time before, we are confident in our collective ability to realize that.”
Bashir, who is in his mid-70s, put down two previous bouts of protests and may do so yet again. But the rule of one of the longest serving leaders in the Middle East is clearly fraying.
The Sudanese leader has held onto power despite a series of major setbacks over the past decade. The first was in 2010 when he was indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of committing crimes against humanity and genocide in the Darfur region. He managed to build outside ties that prevented his complete isolation but has been weighed down by the stigma. More damaging was the 2011 secession from Sudan by the mainly animist and Christian south. The split, approved in a referendum by southerners, came under a peace deal signed by Bashir that ended a draining, decades-long civil war. But as it became independent, the south took with it three quarters of Sudan’s oil wealth.
The north’s economy has struggled ever since. In recent months, Bashir devalued the currency, causing a spike in prices and worsening the hardships faced by most Sudanese. The public already is wrestling with fuel shortages, and a decree to raise the price of bread proved to be spark that set off the latest protests.
Bashir has done little to help himself. He headed to a region south of the capital ahead of Tuesday’s march on his palace. It was a previously scheduled trip but was widely interpreted as fright. There, he tried to put on a show of strength, but his speech at an outdoor rally attended by several hundred people was lackluster, relying on quotes from the Quran vowing that God will provide for people. He promised economic reforms but gave no details. He blamed the crisis on unnamed enemies of Sudan and called the protesters traitors, mercenaries, agents and heretics. Afterward, he stayed on the makeshift stage and performed his trademark dance to local music while waving his cane.
Bashir still dominates Sudan’s political class. Loyal lawmakers are rallying support for constitutional amendments that would allow him to run in the 2020 elections. But his real power base is the military, which has dominated Sudan since independence in 1956. Its support for him in the unrest has been less than resounding. In a statement Sunday, several days into the protests, the military said it stood behind the country’s leadership but didn’t mention Bashir by name. Instead, it talked of preserving the nation’s security and “achievements.”
Later in the week, the leader of a powerful paramilitary force who reports directly to Bashir delivered thinly-veiled criticism of his rule. Lt. Gen. Mohammed Hamad Daqlou of the Rapid Support Force called on the government to “secure services, fulfill its duties and create the means for a dignified life” for Sudan’s people. He said a “realistic and radical solution” must be found for Sudan’s economic crisis, and he called for “corrupt individuals who sabotage the economy” to be brought to account.
Another possible judgment on Bashir was the silence of his Arab allies. Only the Gulf nations of Bahrain and Qatar publicly stated their support for Bashir. No word came from his most important backers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The two countries have long given financial support to Khartoum, and Bashir sought to strengthen ties even further by sending Sudanese troops to Yemen to fight alongside them against Iran-aligned rebels there.
Their silence suggests what an unreliable ally they consider Bashir to be. The Sudanese president has at various points forged close ties with the Saudis’ and Emiratis’ top regional rivals — Iran, Turkey and Qatar — apparently trying to play the sides against each other to extract more from them.
Sudan’s neighbor to the north, Egypt, has also refrained from voicing support for Bashir. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has courted Bashir for years, hoping to secure his goodwill in Egypt’s dispute with Ethiopia over that country’s construction of a massive dam that Egypt fears will reduce its share of the Nile River. But the mercurial Bashir has moved closer to Ethiopia and stoked a long-running border dispute with Egypt.
Western countries have largely shunned Bashir since the ICC charges but they remain key donors of aid to Sudan. The United States, Canada, Norway and Britain have demanded Khartoum investigate “credible reports” that Sudanese security forces used live ammunition against protesters. In a joint statement, they referred to the constitutional right of the Sudanese to peaceful protests and labelled their demands as “legitimate.”
• Sudan mass protests enter second week | Radio Dabanga, December 27, 2018| SUDAN
The mass protests across Sudan against the economic crisis have entered their second week.
Yesterday, Khartoum, Port Sudan, and Wadi Halfa witnessed renewed street protests demanding the overthrow of the regime. Sudanese refugees in South Sudan demonstrated as well. Internationally, Paris and Oslo witnessed sit-ins in solidarity with the demonstrations in Sudan.
A resident of Port Sudan told Radio Dabanga that Deim El Nur district witnessed two demonstrations that have continued for a limited time before being dispersed by the authorities. The protesters chanted slogans condemning the economic situation and calling for the overthrow of the regime.
In several refugee camps in Maban county in Upper Nile state in South Sudan, hundreds of refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile state demonstrated on Wednesday, demanding the ousting of Al Bashir’s regime and stopping the war in Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and Darfur. Demonstrators confirmed to Radio Dabanga their full support for peaceful demonstrations in Sudan. They said the vigils took place simultaneously at the various camps in front of the UN offices with the participation of all sectors of refugees, women, youth and the elderly.
In Babanusa in West Kordofan security agents arrested five political activists following a demonstration on Monday. Detainees Jamal Yousef, Salah Ismail, El Rayah Jano, Nasreldin Eisa and Mohamed Hamadelnil were transferred to the prison of El Fula.
White Nile state governor Abulgasim El Amin said 260 people were arrested in Rabak and El Gezira Aba during demonstrations this week. Two protestors were killed in El Gezira Ababa.
• Paramilitaries block access to weekly market in South Kordofan | Radio Dabanga, December 27, 2018 | SOUTH KORDOFAN
of Abbasiya and El Tadamon in South Kordofan blocked traders and their customers entry to the weekly markets on Monday and Wednesday for fear of demonstrations.Merchants from Balula told Radio Dabanga that the authorities deployed paramilitaries of the Popular Defence Forces on the roads to Balula to prevent people from Abbasiya and Tirtir from visiting the weekly market.
The authorities of El Tadamon have transferred their employees to El Wakra after demonstrators torched the locality offices and the building of the local security apparatus, and the Zakat (Muslim alms) Bureau in El Tirtir last week. Witnesses told Radio Dabanga that the Commissioner of El Tadamon and his staff are now in El Wakra awaiting a visit by the South Kordofan authorities to the locality to solve the problem.
• Sudan’s leader has avoided major public unrest for years — but that could be about to change | CNN, December 26, 2018 23:00 EST
By Nima Elbagir [Sudanese expatriate journalist]
A camera phone captures the scene, filming from behind a makeshift shelter. Shots ring out in to the street. In the mayhem, a body drops and you hear shouts in Arabic, “he’s dead, he’s dead,” as a body lies on the ground motionless. This was one of the first videos to circulate on social media in Sudan in the first days of the demonstrations that began more than a week ago over fuel shortages and a spike in food prices.
The footage originates from El Gadarif state in the east of the Sudan where protestors have been demonstrating against the rising cost of living.
It’s hard to believe but after the initial first years of entrenchment of rule, the Islamist regime of President Omar al-Bashir has avoided these kinds of public confrontations in urban centers.
The far regions like Darfur and the contested border areas are regularly prey to a miasma of militia and army violence. Much of it still led by the Janjaweed, the dreaded tribal militias accused of perpetrating atrocities to put down an armed rebellion in Darfur. It’s now long since absorbed into the government as a formalized paramilitary group — under the new name of the Rapid Support Forces.
In the cities and towns, though, the interrogations, the regime “ghost houses” and disappearances, which we who grew up in the shadow of this regime remember all too well, are much invoked but not widely utilized. Sudanese government officials are still quoted as saying: “You don’t want us to return to how we were.” But it was usually seen as a vaguely idle threat. Between the sporadic co-opting of opposition forces into periodic national unity coalitions, and genuine geopolitical influence and security cooperation with the United States, the almost three-decade rule of the Islamist regime manages to survive.
Until now they have rarely faced a genuine existential threat.
That long-term survival meant that in theory they were safer than ever. The Trump Administration lifted two-decade long financial sanctions in their first year and Sudanese government officials confidently told me they expected to be off the US’s state sponsors of terror list very soon. Then the economic free fall became unmanageable; overnight, bread more than doubled in price and people took to the streets. Almost three decades of repression and humiliation spilling over.
In my life I’ve only known five years of democracy in Sudan, so when I moved back home after graduating from university in London I didn’t really know what to expect. My journalist father’s exile by Bashir’s government had ended after the first of the artificial “Unity government” pretenses. My father believed that he belonged at home in Sudan, that home is where his work and life mattered. I graduated and followed him.
I arrived to work in his newspaper’s newsroom to find that unity government didn’t mean any real freedoms. I was going to have to learn to be a journalist in a newsroom with a state censor sitting in our midst. My father’s casual courage and epic screaming matches with the security operatives weren’t much practical use in helping me find my way but I was lucky that two extraordinary journalists – Khalid Abdelaziz and Yasir Abdullah – agreed to mentor me.
Both came of age under Bashir’s dictatorship and yet because of, or in spite of it, they were both utterly fearless. The first demonstration I reported on was with them, the first time I was tear gassed, the first time riot police detained me and the first time I jumped off the back of a security service pick-up truck and ran.
They taught me when you should walk away because that particular argument with the government is unwinnable and when to stand your ground and argue back. They laughed at my (still appalling) Arabic grammar and explained which regime officials were true fanatics and which were good for an off the record briefing.
Last year, Khalid, who now works for the Reuters News Agency in Sudan, got a call from the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) asking if he was planning to cover the called for demonstration against the rise of cost of living.
The phone call ended without vocalizing the implied threat. Khalid told me he went anyway because it’s his job. He was arrested and held incommunicado, his wife and friends frenetic with worry. Just as arbitrarily he was released, but a message had been sent. What small arena of freedoms journalists had been tolerated within had just shrunk. Journalists were once more “the enemy within.”
Yasir now works at a local newspaper – Al Sudani. Yesterday he was standing outside the entrance to the newspaper when a pick-up truck carrying plain clothes security operatives screeched to a stop in front of him.
Video circulating on social media showed how they tried to force a colleague of his to come with them and Yasir fought back. He also tried to stop the security officers from forcing their way in to the newspaper. He was viciously beaten by five of the men until one of them hit him with the butt of a rifle and he began to lose consciousness, after which shots rang out in Al Sudani’s newsroom in an attempt at intimidation.
He’s at home now resting but both Yasir and Khalid will continue reporting because that’s what they do. It’s their job
I eventually left Sudan to move back to England, mainly because my father asked me to.
I’d been reporting on government committed atrocities in Darfur and threats by the government had started accumulating and my father was told by the then-Information Minister that I needed to stop reporting or leave. Ultimately, I left because I was lucky enough that I could. Out of the three of us, Yasir and Khalid are the better, the braver journalists.
Theirs is not the kind of story we usually think about often in the West — “journalists doing their jobs”- but we should. It’s, thankfully, not the story of some great horror that shakes us and forces us to call for justice. Rather, it is the story of a quiet and resistant bravery. An intrinsic and continuing belief that what we as journalists do does matter, held on to in the face of humiliation and daily aggressions. A belief that if people chant for freedom, fairness and justice then their voices deserve to be amplified and heard.
The kind that wears you down and causes you to doubt your choices, even as you persevere.
My friends Yasir and Khalid may have been lucky but too many others in Sudan were not.
This week activists and citizen journalists in Sudan — at huge risk — documented the deaths and names of the 37 protestors killed so far.
They, along with Khalid and Yasir, deserve to have the stories they tell heard. They deserve for the risks they take to matter. They deserve for justice to be served.
Copyright 2018 SUDAN Research, Analysis, and Advocacy by Eric Reeves