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Sudan sentences to death 27 agents who tortured protester to death in landmark verdict

Thirteen others were sentenced to prison terms [AFP]

Date of publication: 30 December, 2019

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Ahmed al-Kheir, a 36-year-old school teacher from the eastern Kassala province, was tortured to death by intelligence agents in February this year.
A Sudanese court on Monday sentenced 27 intelligence agents to death for torturing and killing a protester in February this year. 

The verdict marked the first time the courts have handed down convictions as Sudan reckons with months of bloody crackdown against protesters earlier this year.

The 27 defendants, all agents in the feared National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), were found guilty of torturing to death Ahmed al-Kheir during his detention at an NISS facility in eastern Sudan, judge Sadok Abdelrahman said. They were sentenced to be hanged, AFP reported.

Thirteen other defendants were sentenced to prison terms and a further four acquitted, according to Reuters.

According to a video shared widely on social media, Abdelrahman asked Kheir's brother Saad if he wished to pardon his brothers' killers. Saad al-Kheir refused, asking instead for "retribution".

Kheir's death became a rallying point for protests, already under way, against ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir's regime. For demonstrators, the school teacher's death was a potent symbol of the brutality of the intelligence services.

He was arrested in late January by intelligence operatives in Kassala state in eastern Sudan and later beaten and tortuerd to death while in custody.

At the time, Kheir's family said security forces had claimed he had died by poisoning. Authorities later backtracked and admitted he had died from injuries sustained during captivity.

Shortly after the military toppled Bashir in a coup, Khartoum lifted the immunity of the intelligence agents alleged to be involved in Kheir's death, a rarity in Sudan.

On Monday, hundreds of people gathered outside the court in Omdurman in anticipation of the verdict, some waving Sudanese flags or holding pictures of Kheir. Upon hearing the verdict, the crowds broke out in celebration.

More than 250 demonstrators were killed in Sudan over the last year, many of them after the fall of Bashir.

Around 130 were killed during the brutal dispersal of a Khartoum protest camp, allegedly by the paramilitary forces.

Read more: One year after Bashir's downfall, Sudan's revolutionaries sleep with one eye open

Earlier this month, deposed President Bashir was sentenced to two years in a rehabilitation facility on charges of illegally acquiring and using foreign funds. The sentence was reduced from the maximum 10 years in prison for the charges as people aged over 70 cannot face prison terms in Sudan.

Bashir, 75, will also face trial for the killing of demonstrators and the 1989 coup that brought him to power.

A criminal investigation launched in mid-December into war crimes in Darfur may also see the ousted leader face trial on harsher charges.

Sudan's transitional government, inaugurated in September, has pledged to provide justice for the more than 250 protesters killed over the last year.

While the verdict over Kheir's death satiates some of the Sudanese public's desire for retribution, many protesters are worried that their comrades killed in the brutal dispersal of a Khartom protest camp may not reap the same justice.

Around 130 people were killed during the June 3 massacre, when paramilitary forces allegedly raided a sit-in outside the military headquarters in the capital, beating, shooting and raping demonstrators.

While the transitional government has formed a committee investigating the deaths, the presence of Mohammad Hamdan Daglo, the paramilitaries' commander, in the country's ruling sovereign council throws a wrench in the proceedings.

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