Amira Osman, a Sudanese women’s rights activist, was getting ready for bed minutes before midnight when around 30 police raided her home in Khartoum last month.
The men, many in civilian clothes and armed with Kalashnikov rifles, pistols and batons, knocked on his bathroom door, ignoring his mother’s pleas to at least allow him to get dressed before taking him away. .
“It was as if they were engaging in battle or chasing down a dangerous terrorist, not a disabled woman,” said Osman’s sister, Amani, a rights lawyer.
Osman, who has been using crutches since an accident in 2017, was jailed twice under Sudan’s autocratic former President Omar al-Bashir for breaking strict Islamic laws governing women’s behavior and dress. This time she was arrested for denouncing the military regime.
With his January 22 arrest, Osman joined hundreds of activists and protest leaders targeted since a military coup last October toppled a transitional government from power.
Detentions have intensified in recent weeks as Sudan plunged into further turmoil with near-daily street protests, raising fears of a full return to al-Bashir’s oppressive tactics. 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 a message to international diplomats that they are interested in political dialogue and fundamental state reform, but then they do nothing to hide their blatant efforts to maintain the status quo and undermine efforts to overthrow,” Cameron said. Hudson, a former US State Department official and Sudan expert at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.
After the coup, security forces launched a deadly crackdown on protesters. They fired live ammunition and tear gas into crowds in the streets and knocked out the country’s internet and mobile signal, all in a bid to stop people from gathering. About 80 people, mostly young men, have been killed and more than 2,200 injured in the protests, according to a Sudanese medical group.
Sudanese security forces have also been accused of using sexual violence against women participating in the protests. The military-led ruling Sovereign Council said an investigation was opened into allegations of rape and gang rape on December 19, after the United Nations called for an investigation. This is not the first time that the security forces have been accused of resorting to rape – such attacks occurred under al-Bashir and also under the army during the transition period.
The United States, United Kingdom and Norway, as well as the European Union, Canada and Switzerland, called the recent trend “troubling” and called for the release of “all those wrongfully detained”.
“We remind the Sudanese military authorities of their obligations to respect 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,” said the group in a statement released by the US state. Department.
Osman’s detention has drawn international condemnation and concern. She was finally released on Sunday.
But for nearly a week after the arrest, her family did not know where she was being held. Then they received a phone call asking them to send clothes to a prison in Khartoum’s twin city, Omdurman, according to his sister, who is also his 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 charged Osman with possession of illegal weapons and ammunition – the “five old bullets” found in her wardrobe, she said, memorabilia from the 2016 National Shooting Championship in which she competed.
It is unclear who the officers who stormed Osman’s house are. During the raid, they said they were from an anti-drugs force, but Amani Osman, the sister-lawyer, said she believed they were actually from the country’s dreaded 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 suppress dissent. After the coup, the military reinstated the agency’s powers, which include detaining people without notifying their families. They are known to keep many of their inmates 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 people detained across the county is still unknown – a situation reminiscent of the reign of al-Bashir.
Hassabu says he is aware of more than 200 activists and protest leaders detained in the Sudanese capital alone. Many activists were taken from their homes or pulled from the streets, according to documents he provided to The Associated Press.
At least 46 activists are being held in Souba prison in Khartoum, according to the documents. Some activists, including Amira Osman, are sent to Omdurman women’s prison.
The wave of arrests spread following the murder of a senior police official during a demonstration on January 13 near the presidential palace in Khartoum. The officer was stabbed to death, according to local media. Security forces raided a hospital in Khartoum and arrested six, including an injured protester and women visiting him, accusing them of being responsible for the killing.
And on January 29, paramilitary troops from the Rapid Support Forces, another security body known for its brutality, grabbed Mohamed Abdel-Rahman Naqdalla, an activist and doctor, from a street in Khartoum, his family said.
A spokesperson for RSF did not respond to requests for comment. The force is largely made up of former militiamen and has been implicated in atrocities under al-Bashir in the western Darfur region. 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 again arrested Khalid Omar, a minister in the ousted transitional government. Omar had been detained during the October 25 coup and was released a month later under an agreement between military and civilian leaders. His party, the opposition Sudanese Congress Party, said he was taken to the party headquarters on Wednesday.
Wagdi Saleh, a member of a government agency tasked with dismantling the legacy of al-Bashir’s regime, was also arrested on Wednesday, according to the pro-democracy alliance Forces for Freedom and Change.
This trend has frustrated diplomats trying to bring military and civilian leaders to some kind of agreement.
“Arbitrary arrests and detentions of politicians, civil society activists and journalists undermine efforts to resolve Sudan’s political crisis,” said Lucy Tamlyn, US Charge d’Affaires in Sudan.