Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Tuesday called on Sudanese security authorities to “immediately release people arbitrarily detained since the military takeover on October 25, 2021.” The human rights organizations also urged security authorities to “also cease further arbitrary arrests and stop using unnecessary, including lethal, force in response to peaceful protests.”
From the early hours of October 25, security agents in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, detained at least 30 civilian political leaders, including 6 cabinet members. On the same day the army also detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and two days later placed him under house arrest. Permission from the military is required for anyone to meet with him while he is under house arrest. By midday, Lt. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the chairperson of the Sovereign Council – a collective presidency body of civilian and military leaders – announced to the media that he was installing a nationwide state of emergency and dissolving the cabinet and Sovereign Council.
“Over the last two weeks the military has resorted to its well-trodden and brutal tactics, undermining small but important progress on rights and freedoms that Sudanese from all walks of life have fought for,” said Mohamed Osman, Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The military should immediately free all those arbitrarily detained over the last two weeks and end all illegal detentions, including enforced disappearances, by the military.”
In addition to arbitrary arrests, Sudanese security used heavy-handed measures to repress peaceful protests against the military takeover. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented unwarranted use of lethal force by security authorities in their efforts to counter the many protests that erupted in Khartoum. At least 14 people have been killed by live ammunition in Khartoum since October 25 according to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors.
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), a Sudanese human rights group, reported that security authorities detained more than 30 people including ministers, advisers to the prime minister, and journalists, between October 25 and 27. Interviews with family members and other research by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch confirm that at least eight of the 30 detainees whose cases feature in the ACJPS statement are being held in undisclosed locations, without access to family or legal counsel in circumstances that may amount to enforced disappearances. Lt. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the army leader, said on October 26 that some detainees would face criminal charges, but none have been announced.
Since October 25, internet and telecommunications have been repeatedly disrupted, limiting people’s access to timely and accurate information, infringing on people’s ability to express political views, and restricting reporting on rights issues, including about detentions, especially outside Khartoum.
Among those arbitrarily arrested is Cabinet Affairs Minister Khalid Omar Youssef, who was detained by a group of security agents in front of his family in a dawn raid on his house on October 25, family members said.
A close relative who spoke to other family members who were present during the raid said: “A group of plain-clothed and armed agents arrived at his house at 3:30 a.m. and began firing shots in the air before they violently broke in, casting terror in the heart of his young daughters… Khalid was roughed up and dragged out of the house, barefoot and in his sleeping clothes. They did not even allow him to change or take any clothes.”
Youssef’s relative said they have no information about his whereabouts and are concerned that the authorities will bring trumped-up charges against him.
Mohamed al-Faki Sulieman, a civilian member of, and spokesperson for, the Sovereign Council, was one of the first officials detained. Al-Faki was also the alternate head of the Committee for Dismantling the Former Regime, a government body to tackle embezzlement and corruption by the ousted government, which was dismantled immediately after the military’s takeover. In the weeks before, al-Faki had publicly criticized the military, blaming them for delaying key reforms and instigating political tensions. A family member said that al-Faki was alone at his official residence and in isolation on October 25, having tested positive for Covid-19 two days earlier. “When we heard the news that officials were being detained, his wife who wasn’t at the residence at that time tried to call but couldn’t get hold of him,” the family member said. “We heard later from some witnesses that armed elements from Sudanese Armed Forces had arrested him. We don’t know where he is or if he took medication he needs as he suffers from chronic medical conditions including heart problems. His family is very concerned because those military leaders have a problematic record when it comes to respecting rights. We want to know where he is and to check on his wellbeing.”
The family of Yasir Arman, a political adviser to the prime minister, released a public statement saying that he had been violently arrested alongside his brother on October 25. The statement said that 18 uniformed soldiers broke into his house at dawn, smashed security cameras, and ransacked the house, leaving his bedroom “turned upside down.”
Wagdi Salih, a lawyer and another prominent figure in the Committee for Dismantling the Former Regime was also arrested on October 25. A family member authorized to speak on behalf of his family said that about 20 armed men in civilian clothes forced their way into Salih’s house around 4 a.m. and forcefully grabbed him from his bedroom while they held the guards in the house at gunpoint and handcuffed his son.
The family heard through social media that Salih and others were taken to the police federal investigations unit in Bahri, Khartoum North, and went to inquire about him. However, the police said he was not in their custody, and the office of the attorney general could not offer any information on Salih’s whereabouts either.
Under international law, when anyone is detained by state forces and their detention is either not acknowledged or the person’s whereabouts is concealed, placing them outside the protection of the law, this is an enforced disappearance. Enforced disappearances are forbidden in all circumstances.
The arrests by military forces have continued. On October 26 at around 7 p.m., security agents in civilian clothes arrested Ismail al-Taj, a prominent lawyer and member of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), at his office. “We’ve had no contact with him whatsoever since the arrest,” his son said. “We want him released. What right do they have to arrest him? On what charges?”
On November 4, the military released four ministers after they spent 10 days in arbitrary detention, including the ministers of telecommunications and of information. However, at about 7 p.m. that day, the military reportedly detained the political secretary of the Sudanese Congress Party, Shareef Osman; his deputy, Hamzah Farouq; and the rapporteur of the Committee for Dismantling the Former Regime, Taha Osman, after they left a meeting at the offices of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission, which later condemned the arrests.
“We don’t know who took them,” said a close family member of Osman’s. “There are no witnesses to this arrest. “We need to know where they are so we can deliver the medicines that he (Osman) needs to treat the many medical conditions that he has.”
Sudan’s armed forces, including the Rapid Support Forces, have no legal authority to detain civilians or carry out law enforcement functions, making detentions of civilians arbitrary and unlawful. On January 21, the former attorney general issued an instruction limiting the powers of arrest and detention of civilians to the police and prosecutors, making clear that any detention by other forces is considered unlawful.
Despite regional and international calls on the military to halt the crackdown, abuses continue. On November 7, security forces, including police and the military, violently dispersed a sit-in called by the teachers’ association in northern Khartoum. According to one lawyer following the cases, about 100 teachers and other protesters were taken to the military central command’s garrison in Khartoum. Some were released the next day, but others remain in detention without access to a lawyer and have yet to be officially charged with any offense.
“The Sudanese people have the rights to peaceful protest, to liberty and security, fair trial, and many more that the military cannot undermine” said Sarah Jackson, deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes at Amnesty International. “Violations of rights by the military should be met with a joint, coordinated, and strong regional and international response.”