Sudan’s military rulers step up crackdown, arrest activists

With her Jan. 22 arrest, Amira Osman joined hundreds of activists and protest leaders targeted since a military coup last October removed a transitional government from power. (File/AP)
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Updated 11 February 2022

Sudan’s military rulers step up crackdown, arrest activists

  • The detentions have intensified in recent weeks as Sudan plunged into further turmoil with near-daily street protests
  • It’s unclear who the officers are who stormed Osman’s house

CAIRO: Amira Osman, a Sudanese women’s rights activist, was getting ready for bed a few minutes before midnight when about 30 policemen forced their way into her home in Khartoum last month.
The men, many in plainclothes and armed with Kalashnikov rifles, pistols and batons, banged on her bathroom door, ignoring her mother’s pleas to at least allow her to get dressed before they took her away.
“It was like they were engaging in a battle or chasing a dangerous terrorist, not a disabled woman,” said Osman’s sister, Amani, a rights lawyer.
Osman, who uses crutches since a 2017 accident, was imprisoned twice under Sudan’s former autocratic President Omar Al-Bashir for violating strict Islamic laws governing women’s behavior and dress. This time, she was detained for speaking out against military rule.
With her Jan. 22 arrest, Osman joined hundreds of activists and protest leaders targeted since a military coup last October removed a transitional government from power.
The detentions have intensified in recent weeks as Sudan plunged into further turmoil with near-daily street protests, sparking fears of an all-out return to the oppressive tactics of Al-Bashir. The coup upended Sudan’s transition to democratic rule after three decades of international isolation under Al-Bashir, who was removed from power in 2019 after a popular uprising.
“The military delivers one message to international diplomats, that they are interested in a political dialogue and fundamental reform of the state, but then they do nothing to hide their blatant efforts to maintain the status quo and undermine efforts to unseat them,” said Cameron Hudson, a former US State Department official and Sudan expert at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.
Following the coup, security forces launched a deadly crackdown on protesters. They fired live ammunition and tear gas at crowds on the streets and knocked the country’s Internet and mobile signal offline — all in efforts to keep people from gathering. Around 80 people, mostly young men, have been killed and over 2,200 others injured in the protests, according to a Sudanese medical group.
Sudanese security forces have also been accused of using sexual violence against women taking part in the demonstrations. The ruling, military-led Sovereign Council said a probe was launched into the allegations of rape and gang rape on Dec. 19, after the United Nations called for an investigation. It is not the first time security forces have been accused of using rape — such attacks occurred under Al-Bashir and also under the military during the transitional period.
The US, UK, and Norway, along with the European Union, Canada and Switzerland, called the recent pattern “troubling,” and urged the release of “all those unjustly detained.”
“We remind Sudan’s military authorities of their obligations to respect the human rights and guarantee the safety of those detained or arrested and the need to ensure that due process is consistently followed in all cases,” the group said in a statement released by the US State Department.
Osman’s detention drew condemnation and concern internationally. She was finally released on Sunday.
But for nearly a week after the arrest, her family didn’t know where she was held. Then, they received a phone call asking them to send clothes to a prison in Khartoum’s twin city, Omdurman, according to her sister, who also is her lawyer.
Osman said she spent the first three days in solitary confinement in “very bad and humiliating conditions.” Then another activist, Eman Mirghani, joined her in the cell. Mirghani remains in detention.
Authorities accused Osman of possession of illegal weapons and ammunition — the “five old bullets” found in her wardrobe, she said, souvenirs from the 2016 national shooting championship in which she competed.
It’s unclear who the officers are who stormed Osman’s house. During the raid, they said they were from a drug-combating force, but Amani Osman, the sister-lawyer, said she believes they were actually from the country’s feared General Intelligence Service.
Formerly known as the National Intelligence and Security Service, the agency was for decades a tool used by Al-Bashir’s government to clamp down on dissent. After the coup, the military reinstated the agency’s powers, which include detaining people without informing their families. They are known to keep many of their detainees in secret prisons called “Ghost Houses.”
Gibreel Hassabu, a lawyer with the Darfur Bar Association, a legal group that focuses on human rights, said the exact number of those detained across the county is still unknown — a situation reminiscent of Al-Bashir’s rule.
Hassabu says he knows of over 200 activists and protest leaders detained in the Sudanese capital alone. Many activists were taken from their homes or snatched from the streets, according to documents he provided to The Associated Press.
At least 46 activists are held in Khartoum’s Souba Prison, the documents show. Some female activists — including Amira Osman — are sent to the women’s prison in Omdurman.
The wave of arrests has expanded following the killing of a senior police officer during a Jan. 13 protest close to the presidential palace in Khartoum. The officer was stabbed to death, according to local media. Security forces raided a Khartoum hospital and arrested six, including an injured protester and women who were visiting him, accusing them of being responsible for the killing.
And on Jan. 29, paramilitary troops from the Rapid Support Forces, another security body with a reputation for brutality, grabbed Mohamed Abdel-Rahman Naqdalla, an activist and physician, from a Khartoum street, his family said.
A spokesman for the RSF did not answer requests for comment. The force is largely comprised of former militiamen and has been implicated in atrocities under Al-Bashir in the the western region of Darfur. It is headed by the country’s second most powerful general, Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, and runs its own detention centers in Khartoum and elsewhere in the country.
This week, authorities rearrested Khalid Omar, a minister in the ousted transitional government. Omar had been detained in the Oct. 25 coup and was released a month later as part of a deal between the military and civilian leaders. His party, the opposition Sudanese Congress Party, said he was taken Wednesday at the party’s headquarters.
Also arrested Wednesday was Wagdi Saleh, a member of a government-run agency tasked with dismantling the legacy of Al-Bashir’s regime, according to the pro-democracy Forces of Freedom and Change alliance.
The trend has frustrated diplomats working to bring the military and civilian leaders to some sort of an agreement.
“Arbitrary arrests and detention of political figures, civil society activists and journalists undermine efforts to resolve Sudan’s political crisis,” said Lucy Tamlyn, US chargé d’affaires in Sudan.


Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

Updated 01 July 2022

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

  • Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president published a planned new constitution on Thursday that he will put to a referendum next month, expanding his own powers and limiting the role of parliament in a vote most political parties have already rejected.
Kais Saied has ruled by decree since last summer, when he brushed aside the parliament and the democratic 2014 constitution in a step his foes called a coup, moving toward one-man rule and vowing to remake the political system.
His intervention last summer has thrust Tunisia into its biggest political crisis since the 2011 revolution that ousted former autocrat Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali and introduced democracy.
Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation.
With most of the political establishment opposed to his moves and urging their supporters to boycott the vote, analysts say the measure is likely to pass, but with only limited public involvement.
None of the major parties, including the Islamist Ennahda which is the biggest in parliament and has played a major role in successive coalition governments since the revolution, issued immediate comment on the draft constitution.
Meanwhile, many Tunisians are far more focused on a growing economic crisis and threats to public finances that have caused salary delays and the risk of shortages of key subsidised goods.
An online ‘consultation’ Saied held from January-March in preparation for drafting the constitution received scant attention from Tunisians, with very few taking part.

Power
The draft constitution published in the official gazette late on Thursday would bring most political power under Saied, give him ultimate authority over the government and judiciary.
Previously, political power was more directly exercised by the parliament, which took the lead role in appointing the government and approving legislation.
Under the new constitution, the government would answer to the president and not to parliament, though the chamber could withdraw confidence from the government with a two-thirds majority.
Saied would be allowed to present draft laws, have sole responsibility for proposing treaties and drafting state budgets, appoint or sack government ministers and appoint judges, the gazette said.
He could serve two terms of five years each, but extend them if he felt there was an imminent danger to the state, and would have the right to dissolve parliament while no clause allows for the removal of a president.
The constitution would allow Saied to continue to rule by decree until the creation of a new parliament through an election expected in December.
It would also create a new ‘Council of Regions’ as a second chamber of parliament, but it gives few details on how it would be elected or what powers it would have.
Saied, a political independent, has promised a new electoral law. Though he has not yet published it, he has indicated that voters would only choose candidates as individuals, not as members of political parties.
Meanwhile, although Islam will no longer be the state religion, Tunisia will be regarded as part of the wider Islamic nation and the state should work to achieve Islamic goals. The president must be Muslim.
However, Saied has maintained most parts of the 2014 constitution that enumerated rights and liberties, including freedom of speech, the right to organize in unions and the right to peaceful gatherings.
However, judges, police, army and customs officials would not have a right to go on strike. Judges have recently been on strike for weeks in protest at Saied’s moves to curtail judicial independence. 
 

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Six killed during protests in Sudan on anniversary of uprising

Updated 01 July 2022

Six killed during protests in Sudan on anniversary of uprising

  • Security forces fired tear gas and used water cannon as they tried to prevent the swelling crowds from marching on the presidential palace, according to witnesses
  • ‘It is imperative that people be allowed to express themselves freely and peacefully’ and security forces should protect that right not hinder it, UN spokesman tells Arab News

KHARTOUM/NEW YORK: At least six people were killed in Sudan on Sunday in a violent crackdown on protesters demonstrating against military rule.

In central Khartoum, security forces fired tear gas and used water cannon as they tried to prevent the swelling crowds from marching toward the presidential palace, witnesses said.

They estimated the crowds in Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Bahri to be at least in the tens of thousands, and to be the largest this year. In Omdurman, witnesses reported gunfire and the use of tear gas as security forces prevented protesters from crossing into Khartoum.

The UN denounced the violent response by the authorities to the protests.

“We’ve said this before and we’ll continue to say that we’re very, very much gravely concerned by the continued use of excessive force by the government security forces in Sudan as they respond to protests, and especially what we’ve seen today,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Arab News.

“It is imperative that people be allowed to express themselves freely and peacefully, and security forces in any country should be there to protect people’s right to do that, not to hinder it.”

The way forward, he added, “is for all the parties to reach an inclusive political solution as soon as possible, leading to a return to constitutional order and democratic transitions.”

The latest protests mark the third anniversary of the massive demonstrations during the uprising that overthrew long-time autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir and led to a power-sharing arrangement between civilian groups and the military.

In October last year, the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, toppled the transitional government, triggering protests amid demands that the army stays out of politics.

June 30 also marks the day Al-Bashir seized power in a coup in 1989.

Some of the protesters on Thursday carried banners demanding justice for those killed during previous demonstrations. Others chanted: “Burhan, Burhan, back to the barracks and hand over your companies,” a reference to the Sudanese military’s economic holdings.

Earlier, protesters blocked some of the capital’s main thoroughfares with barricades made from stones and burning tires.

“Either we get to the presidential palace and remove Al-Burhan or we won’t return home,” said a 21-year-old female student protesting in Bahri.

For the first time in months of protests against October’s coup, internet and phone services were cut. After the military takeover, extended internet blackouts were imposed in an apparent effort to hamper the protest movement. Staff at Sudan’s two private-sector telecoms companies, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that authorities ordered them on Thursday to once again shut down internet connections.

Phone calls within Sudan were also blocked and security forces closed bridges over the Nile linking Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri — another step typically taken in response to big protests to limit the movement of marchers.

In recent days there have been daily protests in many neighborhoods. On Wednesday, medics aligned with the protest movement said security forces shot dead a child during demonstrations in Bahri. The four deaths on Thursday, all in Omdurman, brought to 107 the total number of protesters killed since the coup.

There were also large numbers of injuries and attempts by security forces to storm hospitals in the capital where the wounded were being treated, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said. There was no immediate comment from Sudanese authorities.

The UN envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes, this week called on authorities to abide by a pledge to protect the right of peaceful assembly. “Violence against protesters will not be tolerated,” he said.

Military leaders said they dissolved the government in October because of political paralysis. As a result, however, international financial support that had been agreed with the transitional government was frozen and an economic crisis has escalated.

Al-Burhan said on Wednesday that the armed forces look forward to the day when an elected government can take over but added that this can only be achieved through consensus or elections, not protests.

Mediation efforts led by the UN and the African Union have so far yielded little progress.


Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback

Updated 30 June 2022

Iran says nuclear deal still possible despite Qatar talks setback

  • Indirect talks in Qatar's capital between Iran and US on reviving 2015 nuclear deal concluded with no progress
  • Iran says a deal could still be reached

TEHRAN: Iran insisted Thursday that a revived nuclear agreement with major powers remains achievable despite a negative US assessment of two-way talks in Qatar intended to reboot the stalled negotiations.
The US State Department said the EU-brokered proximity talks in the Qatari capital Doha had concluded late Wednesday with “no progress made.”
But Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said he believed the talks had been “positive” and a deal could still be reached.
“We are determined to continue negotiating until a realistic agreement is reached,” he said after a phone call with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who hosted the indirect talks.
“Our assessment of the recent round of talks in Doha is positive,” he said.
“I insist on the fact that we are making serious efforts to reach a good, solid and lasting agreement,” said Amir-Abdollahian.
“An accord is achievable if the United States is realistic.”
The two days of talks, in which EU mediators shuttled between Iranian and US delegations, were intended to reboot wider negotiations between Iran and major powers in Vienna which have been stalled since March.
The talks aim to bring the United States back into a 2015 deal jettisoned by the Donald Trump administration in 2018 by lifting the sweeping economic sanctions he imposed in exchange for Iran’s return to full compliance with the limits set on its nuclear activities.
Washington has “made clear our readiness to quickly conclude and implement a deal on mutual return to full compliance,” the US State Department spokesperson said after the talks wrapped up in Qatar.
“Yet in Doha, as before, Iran raised issues wholly unrelated to the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) and apparently is not ready to make a fundamental decision on whether it wants to revive the deal or bury it.”
Differences between Tehran and Washington have notably included Iran’s demand that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from a US terror list.
The talks in Doha came just two weeks before US President Joe Biden makes his first official visit to the region, with trips to Iran foes Israel and Saudi Arabia.


Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister

Updated 30 June 2022

Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister

  • The patient has an immune system deficiency
  • Virus identified in over 50 new countries outside Africa

ISTANBUL: Turkey has detected its first case of monkeypox in a 37-year-old patient who is in isolation, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Thursday.
The virus has been identified in more than 50 new countries outside the countries in Africa where it is endemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) says cases are also rising in those countries, calling for testing to be ramped up.
“Monkeypox has been detected in one of our patients. The patient is 37 years old and has an immune system deficiency,” Koca wrote on Twitter.
He said the patient was in isolation and contact follow-up had been conducted, with no other case found.
There have been more than 3,400 cases of monkeypox, and one death, since the outbreak began in May, according to a WHO tally. There have also been more than 1,500 cases and 66 deaths in countries this year where it more usually spreads.
Last week, the WHO ruled that the outbreak did not yet represent a public health emergency, its highest level of alert.


Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election

Updated 30 June 2022

Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election

  • The final dissolution bill ends year-long premiership of Naftali Bennett
  • Bennett said he will not stand in the Nov. 1 election, which will see Benjamin Netanyahu attempt to reclaim power

JERUSALEM:Israeli lawmakers dissolved parliament on Thursday, forcing the country’s fifth election in less than four years, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid set to take over as caretaker prime minister at midnight.
The final dissolution bill, which passed with 92 votes in favor none against, ends the year-long premiership of Naftali Bennett, who led an eight-party coalition that was backed by an Arab party, a first in Israeli history.
Following the vote, Lapid and Bennett immediately swapped seats in the parliament — the Knesset — and Lapid was embraced by members of his centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party.
Bennett said late Wednesday that he will not stand in the upcoming election set for Nov. 1, which will see veteran right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu attempt to reclaim power.
Netanyahu has promised that his alliance of right-wingers, ultra-nationalists and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties will win the upcoming vote, but opinion polls show he may also struggle to rally a parliamentary majority.
Bennett will host Lapid for a handover ceremony later Thursday, the prime minister’s office said.
The outgoing premier will also hand the leadership of his religious nationalist Yamina party to his long-time political ally, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Netanyahu’s main challenger will likely be long-time foe Lapid, a former celebrity news anchor who has surprised many since being dismissed as a lightweight when he entered politics a decade ago.
Bennett’s motley alliance formed with Lapid in June 2021 offered a reprieve from an unprecedented era of political gridlock, ending Netanyahu’s record 12 consecutive years in power and passing Israel’s first state budget since 2018.
As pair announced plans to end their coalition last week, Lapid sought to cast Netanyahu’s potential return to office as a national threat.
“What we need to do today is go back to the concept of Israeli unity. Not to let dark forces tear us apart from within,” Lapid said.
Bennett led a coalition of right-wingers, centrists, doves and Islamists from the Raam faction, which made history by becoming the first Arab party to support an Israeli government since the Jewish state’s creation.
But the alliance, united by its desire to oust Netanyahu and break a damaging cycle of inconclusive elections, was imperilled from the outset by its ideological divides.
Bennett said the final straw was a failure to renew a measure that ensures the roughly 475,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank live under Israeli law.
Some Arab lawmakers in the coalition refused to back a bill they said marked a de facto endorsement of a 55-year occupation that has forced West Bank Palestinians to live under Israeli rule.
For Bennett, a staunch supporter of settlements, allowing the so-called West Bank law to expire was intolerable. Dissolving parliament before its June 30 expiration temporarily renews the measure.
In the weeks before his coalition unraveled, Bennett sought to highlight its successes, including what he characterised as proof that ideological rivals can govern together.
“No one should give up their positions, but it is certainly possible and necessary to put aside, for a while, ideological debates and take care of the economy, security and future of the citizens of Israel,” he said in his farewell address Wednesday, which did not rule out a eventual return to politics.
Bennett will stay on as alternate prime minister responsible for Iran policy, as world powers take steps to revive stalled talks on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Israel opposes a restoration of the 2015 agreement that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
Lapid will retain his foreign minister title while serving as Israel’s 14th premier. He will find himself under an early microscope, with US President Joe Biden due in Jerusalem in two weeks.