ARTICLE 19 condemns the continued crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Sudan by security forces, the arrest and intimidation of journalists and the shutdown of the internet. The government should cease further arbitrary arrests and use of lethal force in response to peaceful protests. We also call for an independent investigation into the killings and the release of those arbitrarily detained.
Violations on right to protest
According to the Sudanese Central Doctors Committee, at least 40 people have died as a direct result of the use of live ammunition by law enforcement officers since the beginning of the pro-democracy protests on 25 October 2021. Security forces used brutal and excessive force including live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas canisters against protesters during the pro-democracy protests held between 13 and 17 November 2021 that resulted in the death of at least 16 protesters and hundreds more sustaining injuries.
“The Sudanese people have a right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and access to information. It is the duty of the military authorities to respect and promote these rights and ensure the safety of all in Sudan and to refrain from any use of violence against protesters,” said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director at ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.”
According to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (CCSD) on 11 November, General Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, head of Sudan’s Armed forces, declared the formation of a new ruling sovereign council. Opposition groups, civil society organisations and the general public took part in a “Million Man” march that was held on Saturday 13 November to protest against the military coup.
The protests were met by excessive force from security forces resulting in more than 200 cases of injury in Khartoum. More than 100 of those cases were by live ammunition, 3 due to rubber bullets, 17 injuries attributed to tear gas canisters, 13 cases of suffocation, 8 were injured by being beaten using police batons and 62 cases of burns and superficial injuries.
According to reports, on Wednesday 17 November 2021, 10 people were shot dead by security forces and 70 protesters were injured during pro-democracy demonstrations in Khartoum with reports further indicating that security forces were heavily deployed on main roads and intersections, using tear gas to prevent gatherings.
Freedom of expression
On Sunday 14 November 2021, Al Jazeera’s Khartoum bureau chief, El Musalmi El Kabbashi, was arrested and detained by Sudanese military authorities who had raided his house. While he was released 2 days later, the authorities have yet to give a reason for his detention. Furthermore, there were reports of attacks, arrest and detention of journalists covering the pro-democracy protests.
Internet services in Sudan were shut down on 25 October 2021. Despite orders issued by a Sudanese Court on 9 November 2021 directing three telecommunication operators in Sudan to restore full internet services, the internet was still shut down during the protests held on 13 November 2021. This limited the ability of protestors to use online platforms to organize themselves, access or share critical information about the protest.
On 17 November 2021 Sudanese authorities cut off phone and mobile communications in addition to internet shutdown leading to a total communication blackout, save for satellite communication. On 18 November 2021 ARTICLE 19 received reports of partial internet restoration in Sudan. However, social media platforms remain unavailable.
“The raid and arrest of Al Jazeera’s Khartoum bureau chief and others opposed to the military coup, coupled with the internet shutdown, is a worrying sign that military leaders intend to suppress coverage of pro-democracy events and prevent citizens and media actors from documenting and sharing human rights violations. They must immediately reverse course and restore full internet services and allow the free flow of information,” continued Mugambi Kiai.
ARTICLE 19 reiterates the call for the government of Sudan to respect the several international human rights treaties it has signed to guarantee freedom of expression, and access to information, as well as the right to protest. It also urges it to ensure full restoration of internet services since as the special rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association noted, shutting down entire communication systems is unjustified and a violation of international law.
Background to pro-democracy protests
The protests started off on 25th October 2021 following a military coup by General Abdel Fattah Burhan. The protesters demanded a return to civilian rule after the military coup leader General Abdel Fattah Burhan dissolved the cabinet of ministers and the Sovereign Council, arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and several other senior officials, and called a state of emergency. They were however met by a violent crackdown by soldiers from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) who responded using live ammunition, killing 11 protestors and injuring a further 150, as well as arresting local protest organisers and disrupting internet services.
A political agreement was signed on 21 November 2021, enabling Abdalla Hamdok to be reinstated as prime minister, to restore the transition to civilian rule and release political prisoners.
For more information please Contact Mugambi Kiai at [email protected], Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.