Petition for Prisoners
As governments seemed to be toppling throughout the Middle East, many of us wondered whether the unrest would spread to Khartoum.
Not that it would be easy to cover. The Sudanese youth had called for mass demonstrations in the country on January 30th, which were violently suppressed by the police and security services. Journalists trying to cover the protests were prevented from operating, and in some cases arrested. The Sudanese security apparatus do not like cameras.
It just didn’t seem to take off here. Despite the fifteen-thousand that joined the Facebook group “Youth for Change” that called for a day of action, only a fraction of those who supported it—or at least clicked “Like”—actually turned up. And I don’t believe that Sudan has the same desire for change as Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt, the Sudanese youth’s role-models.
From my time in the country last year around the time of the 2010 Sudanese elections, Omar al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party are popular. Unpopularity stems largely from rising food and fuel prices; he certainly isn’t the crony of the West that could be claimed by other Arab leaders.
The women depicted above, however, do have gall though. Their sons, their husbands, their brothers and uncles were imprisoned in the demonstrations that bubbled in Khartoum, and have spent the last two weeks imprisoned in the ghost-houses of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).
In the courtyard of the house of the leader of the national Umma party, these women manifested for their release. On the road opposite the house, two pick-up trucks full of plain-clothes security operatives sat, inconspicuously. At a nearby crossroads, other trucks full of baton-wielding, riot-shield clad police were posted on every corner.
As I slunk in through the door to join a handful of brave Sudanese journalists, and one other foreign correspondent, my heart was pounding.
A while later, the women left by the back door as we journalists left by the front. As we drove to the NISS building, where the women hoped to deliver a petition demanding their loved-ones’ release, a van full of riot-police flanked us.
Several of the women were stopped and arrested en-route, being driven around the city for several hours before being deposited in random parts of the city by security operatives. The chance of pulling out my camera in front of the NISS building was non-existent.
Sudan’s elections last year were heralded as the first democratic vote in the country since the eighties, but for those showing their discontent of the situation in the country, freedom of expression and demonstration is far from a reality.