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Sudan: Release detainees and stop harassing civil society activists

Sudanese authorities should drop all charges against 10 activists affiliated with Tracks for Training and Development (TRACKs), a Khartoum-based training organisation, and immediately and unconditionally release three men who have been detained since May 2016 solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights, the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, Amnesty International, DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), the International Federation for Human Rights and the International Refugee Rights Initiative said today.

The activists affiliated with TRACKs – which provides training on a range of issues from IT to human rights – are facing two overlapping criminal cases, one opened following a raid on the organisation in March 2015 and another following a second raid in February 2016. They have been charged with a number of offences including crimes against the state that carry the death penalty. The two cases were scheduled to be heard on 24 August 2016, but were postponed to 30 August.

“The criminal charges, arrests and raids all appear aimed at intimidating TRACKs staff members and disrupting the operation of the organisation,” said Mossaad Mohamed Ali, Executive Director of the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies. “Sudan must immediately and unconditionally release the detainees, drop all charges that stem from their peaceful activities and let TRACKS staff and their affiliates conduct their work without fear of reprisals.”

Three of the accused are held in detention at Al Huda Prison in Omdurman North, Khartoum. TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar, TRACKS trainer Midhat Afif al-Deen Hamdan, and the director of Alzarqaa Organisation for Rural Development, Mustafa Adam, who happened to be visiting TRACKS at the time of the February raid, were detained on 22 May together with six others who were released within two weeks. The group of eight was charged on 15 August and the three men were transferred to Al Huda prison on the same day. They had spent 86 days without charge at the Office of the Prosecutor for State Security in Khartoum in inhumane conditions, in a cell that was overcrowded, with poor ventilation and restricted access to sanitation. Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar, who suffers from a heart condition, was denied medical treatment on a number of occasions at the Prosecutor’s office and fainted twice due to the heat.

Also on 22 May 2016, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) reactivated an earlier criminal case, number 56/2015, brought against TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar and Adil Bakheit, a well-known independent human rights trainer who had delivered trainings for TRACKS, following a raid on the organisation in March 2015. The men were charged in April and May 2015 with seven offences including three under the category of crimes against the state that carry the death penalty. However, they heard nothing further about the case until they were summoned to court on 22 May and informed that two other members of TRACKS staff, administration manager Arwa Al-Rabie and accountant Nudaina Kamal, were also accused in the case. The hearing has been adjourned five times because the investigator failed to attend.

“The very serious criminal charges, which include allegations of waging war against the state and espionage, are baseless and reflect a grave and increasing misuse of the criminal justice system to harass and intimidate civil society groups in Sudan,” said Sarah Jackson, Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes at Amnesty International. “In both cases, the Prosecution has failed to provide written confirmation of the names of the accused or charges brought against them, or provide details on the factual or legal basis for the charges, and has repeatedly delayed proceedings, undermining the right to a fair trial”.

The charges appear to be part of an on-going pattern of harassment and intimidation against TRACKS and other civil society groups by the NISS.

During the two raids on TRACKS in March 2015 and February 2016, NISS officers confiscated laptops, mobiles, and documents and repeatedly summoned staff for interrogation afterwards. On 11 June 2016, NISS officials searched the home of TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar and the homes of three of his relatives. Officials seized printed materials and the family’s cash savings and briefly detained his brother, Jamal Mukhtar.

The Sudanese authorities have unduly restricted the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, including by shutting down newspapers, using excessive force to break up protests, and placing arbitrary restrictions on civil society organisations.

The Confederation of Sudanese Civil Society Organisations reported that in the last quarter of 2015 three organisations faced undue restrictions in the renewal of their licences, one local organisation was denied registration and another was forcibly closed without reasons being given. In March this year, the NISS stopped four civil society representatives from travelling to Switzerland for a high level meeting with diplomats in preparation for a UN-led human rights review of Sudan and confiscated their passports.

“Sudan continues to unlawfully restrict civil society through forced closures, raids and obstructions to the registration of organisations, as well the harassment and arbitrary detention of activists and human rights defenders,” said Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders. “The government should stop these repressive tactics and allow Sudanese civil society to operate freely.”

Human rights organisations have long called on Sudan to reform repressive laws, including the National Security Act of 2010 which vests the security agency with wide powers of arrest and detention for up to four and a half months without judicial review in addition to powers of search and seizure. Sudan also continues to use the death penalty, implemented by hanging, for a range of offences. These laws have been used to crack down on civil society and human rights defenders.

“Sudan must reform its laws in line with its own constitution and international obligations, especially the National Security Act; the Volunteer and Humanitarian Work Act of 2006; and the Criminal Law of 1991,” said Andie Lambe, Executive Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative.

Further information

Case number 110/2016 was filed on 15 August against eight TRACKS staff and affiliates: TRACKS director Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar, trainer Midhat Afif al-Deen Hamdan and the director of Alzarqaa Organisation for Rural Development, Mustafa Adam are detained at Al-Huda prison. Also accused in the case are two TRACKs trainers, Al-Hassan Kheiry and Abu Hureira Abdelrahman, TRACKS administration manager Arwa Ahmed Elrabie and volunteer Imany Leyla Raye, as well as Albaqir al Afif Mukhtar, the director of another organisation, Alkhatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE), who is the brother of the Khalafalla al Afif Mukhtar. Abu Hureira and Albaqir al Afif Mukhtar were outside Sudan when the charges were issued.