Sudan: Rising Death Toll of Peaceful Protesters and Internet Blackout
Sudan exploding amidst a fragile economic situation
Sudan is experiencing a new wave of popular protests that are increasing in popularity and scope. They have so far included Wad Madani, Khartoum, Kassala, Port Sudan, Gadarif, Sinaar and Nyala. In all of these towns except Nyala, the protests were triggered by the critical economic situation that saw in the last weeks a sharp depreciation of the Sudanese pound vis a vis the dollar and, and an increase in prices of basic food items and the cost of fuel. This was compounded by the government’s announcement, last Tuesday (September 17) that it was lifting State subsidies from fuel and essential food products, such as sugar. Starting Tuesday, September 24, the price of gasoline almost doubled.
Summary and analysis
This report covers the first four days of protests, that started last Sunday triggered by President Al Bashir’s speech to the nation that broadcast live on Sudan TV where he discussed the intended actions to respond to the economic crisis, and confirmed that the lifting of subsidies was going to be implemented. This report will also focus on the violent crackdown of the Sudanese government that included: the use of live ammunition against peaceful protesters resulting in deaths amongst protesters–many of whom are minors and school students; the large-scale detentions of youth activists and political leaders; and the information backout resulting from high censorship of the print media and the shutdown of the internet starting on Wednesday, September 25.
What separates this new wave of protests from previous ones is that the protests are not led, coordinated or mobilized by known political factions or youth movements. These protests are more grassroots in their nature and not geographically localized in specific neighbourhoods. In Khartoum, the protests included most areas, with the participation of school students and young adults. This wide range in the geographic scope of the protests is exhausting police and security efforts who have to scatter their resources. First-hand sources told GIRIFNA that administrative staff at the police were told to be ready to be put on the streets. Other sources also indicated that police may be pulled from the streets to protect government buildings after the increase in attacks by protesters on National Congress Party (NCP) property in Khartoum and Madani.
Reports of deaths of peaceful protesters, mainly by live bullets, indicate that in Khartoum alone about 100 civilians were killed– by the end of the third day of protests. While in Madani the death toll reached 12 civilians by Tuesday. The number of those injured is much higher, but could not be confirmed.
In Khartoum all gas stations are closed, creating a severe shortage in gasoline and implying that mobility of residents of the capital will be limited if the situation remains the same. Market places and smaller neighbourhood shops have also closed down creating shortages in basic foodstuff. 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.
On Wednesday the Sudanese government announced the closure of all schools until September 30. At the time of writing this report there was unconfirmed news that a curfew may be imposed from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., most probably in an effort to limit the continuation of protests which went on until after midnight in some areas of the capital on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Clampdown on freedom of the press and an internet blackout
On Wednesday at about 1.30 p.m. Sudan time, news spread about the possibility of the internet being disconnected as information from mobile phones including video footage and photos that were being shared by protesters on the ground; as well as communication via smart phone applications such as, WhatsApp stopped suddenly. Soon after, wi-fi connections were also impacted. This created panic, because in the current information black-out a lot of citizens are using their phones and applications on smart-phones to share videos, pictures and updates. The only source of information for Sudanese inside Sudan and outside was social media platforms where most information was being exchanged, in addition to telephones and transfer of information via word-of-mouth.
After an hour and fifteen minutes of complete shut-off the internet was back, but only momentarily. And at the time of publishing this report only the MTN network was working and the Canar landline network that is mostly used by businesses. Meaning that the only way to communicate for the majority of the population is via telephone lines. Many in the community of activists noted that their phones were tapped.
The shutting down of the internet comes at a time when very disturbing images and videos of dead students and injured protesters are starting to circulate on social media. It is proof that the Government of Sudan has something to hide that it does not want its citizens to share with the rest of the world.
The non-profit, Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) reported that on Thursday, September 19, three newspapers were confiscated from the printers before they hit the newsstands. These included: the pro-government Al Intibaha, as well as Al-Ayaam and Al Jareeda. The papers were confiscated for discussing the government’s decision to lift subsidies and the general economic hardship citizens are enduring.
Madani: violent clashes and death of protesters
In Wad Madani, where the protests have been populous and violent; they continue since they erupted on Sunday right after Al Bashir’s speech. Pictures on social media show that citizens attacked and burnt government buildings and vehicles. There are also confirmed reports of police violence against protesters that led to the death of at least two youth on Monday: Mazin Sid-Ahmad and Ahmed Mohammed Ali. However, confirming the deaths of protesters has not been easy, although the death toll quoted by others such as the Sudan Change Now movement and some media outlets goes up to 12 deaths as of Tuesday.
A police statement posted on the government’s official news website, SUNA denies that one of the protesters was killed by the riot police’s and stated that: “citizens started throwing stones at passing cars, and a stray bullet from a passing civilian pick-up vehicle hit Ahmed Mohammed Ali (23 years), who lives in Awooda area, leading to his immediate death. The car fled and the police is conducting a search and have started legal procedures.”
GIRIFNA’s sources on the ground confirmed that the death of Mazin Sid Ahmad resulted from injuries from a government-backed jihadist brigade called, Abu Ghatada, and that the victim was beaten to death by this group. The Abu Ghatada members were dressed in civilian clothing and used knives and swords to hit protesters with many injuries reported. Additionally, eyewitnesses say that the police used live ammunition to disperse peaceful protesters injuring many in the process.
On Tuesday a well known human rights defender and lawyer Majdi Saleem was arrested in Madani. Also, award-winning novelist Rania Mamoun was arrested on Monday and released on Tuesday afternoon. A photo of her that circulated on social media shows obvious signs of beating and torture on her face and left eye.
There are reports that the detentions in Madani exceed 100, but we are not able to confirm that at the moment.
Khartoum: arrests, summary trials, live ammunition and a rising death toll
In Khartoum riot police used tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters and live ammunition was used throughout the capital with citizens continuing to hear non-stop shooting even in residential areas. On Sunday (September 22), while Omer al Bashir was giving a two-hour speech to the nation on Sudan TV to explain the nature of the subsidies, his national security agents were rounding up youth activists and political opposition leaders and arresting them. A reaction that shows the regime’s fear of popular anger amidst the absence of concrete solutions to the economic crisis that is severely affecting the majority the population. Although there may be other citizens arrested that we are not aware of, the names of those arrested on Sunday are as follows:
1. Sidig Yousif:
2. Munzir Abou Al Ma’ali:
3. Mohamed Hassan Boshi: Youth activist
4. Omar Dafaallah
5. Mohamed Abdul Moniem
6. Faisal Mohamed Salih: from Madani town
7. Ahmed Yasin:
8. Mirghani Attah al Manan:
9. Mohamed Ahmed al Sidig
10. Salah Ibrahim:
11. Mohamed Mukhtar Mahmoud:
12. Mohamed Mousa
13. Bashir Mohamed Basir:
14. Mastoor Ahmad Mahamed:
15. Hashim Telib:
16. Abdul Khalig al Tayib:
17. Ahmed Abass:
Other political opposition leaders have had their homes raided and are under surveillance such as Mohamed Dia Al Din from the Ba’ath party and the spokesmen of the National Coalition Forces, Farouk Abu Eissa.
A human rights lawyer speaking anonymously to GIRIFNA, confirmed that about 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.
Arrests on Monday, September 23 included:
1. Neimat Malik: a member of the communist party, was picked up in the street and she was released on the evening of Tuesday September 24;
2. Mohammed Al A’lam
3. Yasin Hassan: teacher;
4. Mohayad Sideeg.
In Khartoum conservative estimates put the death toll by Thursday, September 25, at about 100. On Wednesday an eyewitness told GIRIFNA that he counted 30 bodies in Omdurman hospital morgue. Some of dead included students; and were able to confirm the following names:
1. Khalid Yahya;
2. Hazim Mohammed;
3. Mohammed Younis;
4. Mohammed al Sadig;
5. Ayman Salah;
6. Babikir Abakar; and
7. Ali Mohammad.
Eyewitnesses also confirmed that in the Duraishab area, seven protesters were killed by live ammunition on Wednesday including three women and a teenage girl, Sara Abdelbagi. A lawyer who wanted to stay anonymous, told GIRIFNA that he counted at least 19 bodies of dead protesters at Al Haj Yousif police station. When he asked why they were still at the police station, he was told by the police that they were killed by National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) and that NISS was expected to collect them. Their families were not yet notified. Five deaths of protesters by live bullets were also reported by GIRIFNA members in Wadi Street, Al Thawrat in Omdurman. And the bodies of four protesters were seen (by residents of the area) at the Turkish hospital in Kalakla; and seven dead protestors were seen by witnesses at al Baraha hospital in Halfaya.
In the early hours of Thursday a doctor working at Omdurman hospital confirmed that 21 bodies arrived at 12.15 am, in addition to several injured protesters.
Residents of Khartoum also noted that at least four gas stations were put on fire on Tuesday, including three in Omdurman and one in Khartoum. Protesters are saying it is the police who intentionally burt them to justify violence on unarmed protesters. Several NCP buildings were also burnt by protesters, including one in South Khartoum that was burnt on Wednesday.
Protests in East Sudan
All the big towns in East Sudan had witnessed protest by Wednesday. The head of the National Unionist Party in Kassala, Mohammad Al Hassan Al Himair was arrested while leading a protest on Tuesday. On Wednesday afternoon there were intensive protests in Port Sudan and Kassala, followed by the arrest of many high school students. In Gadarif the first arrest of an activist Abdulla Mohamad Omer Hamid took place on September 15, while he was distributing brochures against the increase of prices. Hamid is a student of medicine at Gadarif university (sixth year). Activists in Gadarif have been campaigning for his release and have expressed concern, noting that he has been tortured while in detention and his family has not been been allowed to visit him more recently.
On Tuesday, a well-known member of the civil society in Gadarif, Jafaar Khider was detained. Khider is on a wheelchair and he was sick when he was arrested. Both Hamid and Khider belong to the outspoken Gadarif Initiative for Freedom. On the same day three students from Gadarif University who belong to an organized Student movement in East Sudan (Al Tayar Al Tulabi) were arrested after organizing a well-attended street talk, in one of Gadarif’s markets, to protest the rising prices. The students are:
1. Adam Ahmad Fidail (24 years old): department of chemistry;
2. Adul Ilah Mohamad Al Hassan (23 years old): faculty of economics; and
3. Abdulla Ahmad (24 years old): faculty of economics;
Nyala: deteriorating security and renewed protest
In Nyala, on September 19, the killing by armed gunmen, of a popular businessman and president of Nayala’s El Merreikh football team, Ishmael Ibrahim Wadi, led to two days of protests by unarmed peaceful residents calling on the governor of Nayala to step down because he is unable to ensure the security of civilians. The protests were met with excessive violence, tear gas and live ammunition that injured 48 persons (mostly shot at directly by security forces) and killed more than 11 (some reports say 18), including a 13 year-old boy.
There were renewed protests in Nyala, as of Tuesday morning, as news of country-wide protests started to spread.