sudan protest

Major protests have erupted across Sudan due to the fragile economy and rising food prices which have continued to grip the country.

At least 29 people have been killed as the protests spiralled out of control. The skirmishes have so far spread across the cities of Wad Madani, Khartoum, Kassala, Port Sudan, Gadarif, Sinaar and Nyala.

The sharp depreciation of the Sudanese pound and a hike in the cost of fuel has helped to compound the situation.

The Sudanese government had also recently announced that it was lifting state subsidies from fuel and essential food products, such as sugar, while the price of gasoline almost doubled.

These protests have escalated as a result and were met with a violent crackdown by the state. According to online blogs published by Sudanese activists, authorities have used live ammunition against peaceful protesters, resulting in deaths. Many were reported to have been minors and school students. It has also been reported that the protests have been used as an excuse to carry out large-scale detention of political activists and youth leaders.

The protests are the largest in Sudan since President Omar al-Bashir rose to power.

Mainstream media reports have reported that rubber bullets were fired into the crowds to restore order. However, witnesses, families and activists in the country tell a very different story.

They say that police fired live bullets at demonstrators and unleashed a wave of brutality among those who attended the protests. Tear gas was also deployed.

The ability of residents in the country to travel was restricted as gas stations across the country shut down

Market places and smaller neighbourhood shops have also closed down creating shortages in basic foods. This has implications on the future ability of Khartoum’s residents to communicate as many depend on pre-paid credit for their mobile phones, and may not be able to buy phone credit in the immediate future.

Schools were also closed until September 30th.

The government also explored the possibility of shutting down internet stations, while there have also been reports that the ability of people to share video footage of the incidents have been restricted as smartphone applications such as, WhatsApp stopped suddenly.
This was followed by restrictions on wi-fi. However telephone lines were working normally – although many reported suspicions that their phone lines had been tapped. It appears that at least some of the paranoia may be justified. Political opposition leaders have had their homes raided and are under surveillance.

It was also reported that eight protesters have been subjected to summary trials at Omdurman Court, where they were accused of “disrupting the peace” and received 20 lashes in the courtyard of the court, in addition to a fine of 200 SDG.

The not-for-profit, Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) organisation reported that on Thursday, September 19, three newspapers were confiscated from the printers before they hit the newsstands.

The papers were confiscated for discussing the government’s decision to lift subsidies and the general economic hardship citizens are enduring.

President Bashir currently has outstanding warrants against him, issued by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for 10 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the Darfur conflict.

It is a well-known fact that despotic governments often ignite tension in a country by suddenly raising prices, inflating the cost of living and announcing cuts, which inevitably spark protests.

The protests are then used as a means to systematically slaughter those who dare to protest, while the state demonises activists.

This was seen in the G20 protests in London where excessive police violence against protesters was widely documented. This culminated in the death of Ian Tomlinson, who was shot in the back by armed police as he was walking home. He was not part of the protests.

In 2009, both male and female protesters reported excessive police violence against G20 activists. Several women, including a journalist from the Alternative Media Centre (AMC) reported that the police had threatened them with gang-rape, while others were subject to arbitrary strip and cavity searches by officers of the opposite sex.

Amy Miller, from the AMC, reported at the time: “Throughout the time that I was detained I was told many statements that I find repulsive and completely inappropriate and what I view as threats. I was told I was going to be raped. I was told that I was going to be gang banged. I was told that they were going to make sure that I was never going to want to act as a journalist again by making sure that I would be repeatedly raped while I was in jail. While I was in the detention center, I saw numerous young women who were completely strip searched, who were strip-searched by male officers. And one young woman who was coming out, who was completely traumatized, said she had had a finger put up her.”

But history has shown us that periods of economic instability and turmoil often leads to widespread protests as citizens object to being asked to pay more, for less services and increasing poverty. Sadly, history also tells us that those are often followed by excessive crackdowns, confrontations and tougher legislation which restricts yet even more freedoms, if those protests are not supported by other forms of opposition and political pressure.

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