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Thousands of anti-Bashir protesters defy regime ban in Sudan

Journalist Osman Mirghani is being held incommunicado by security services [Twitter]

Date of publication: 1 March, 2019

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Thousands of protesters came out in mass rallies on Thursday in Sudan in defiance of a ban on unauthorised demonstrations. Protesters and journalists continue to face arrest.

Thousands of Sudanese protesters defied a regime ban in mass demonstrations in the capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman on Thursday, while more than 100 demonstrators also appeared before courts established under the state of emergency law.

President Omar al-Bashir announced on Monday a ban on unauthorised demonstrations, in addition to the state of emergency imposed last week. The notorious National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) were also granted sweeping new powers to search and arrest demonstrators.

Despite those extreme measures, thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital and surrounding areas on Thursday, Reuters reported.

Mass demonstrations were called by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), one of the unions which has been central in organising daily rallies against Bashir’s regime since mid-December.

"Every new day brings us closer to achieving our goal of overthrowing the regime and establishing a free democracy and a state of justice," said the SPA.

Demonstrators chanted popular slogans "Revolution is the people's choice" and "just fall", and protesters in Shambat took a minute of silence for the victims of Wednesday's devastating train crash in Cairo, which killed at least 25 people, Reuters reported.

Thursday's demonstrations appear to be the largest in recent weeks. Dentists and doctors also undertook strikes, reported Radio Dabanga.

"The masses raised slogans challenging the state of emergency… declaring that no law on earth can silence or limit people’s movement or soften their resolve as long as they believe in their cause," said a statement from the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD).

Several demonstrators were injured by tear gas canisters, the CCSD claimed.

As protests have continued into their third month, the NISS has reportedly become more violent in its attempts to disperse demonstrators, as well as being consistent in its use of tear gas, which activists have called "excessive".

The much-feared security services were accused on Wednesday of running over and killing a five-year-old boy in Khartoum. A video distributed on social media on Thursday appeared to show security services beating children at a demonstration.

More than 150 demonstrators were also tried on Thursday in new courts set up under the state of emergency law, Sudanese journalist Reem Abbas reported.

Sentences under the state of emergency law as of yet appear to be random.

One person was charged with a 5,000 Sudanese pound ($105) fine for distributing fliers calling on people to protest. A person accused of assaulting a police officer was sentenced to two weeks in jail and a 2,000 Sudanese pound ($42) fine, while another demonstrator was sentenced to a month in prison and a 10,000 Sudanese pound ($210) fine.

The freedom of the press continues to be a main target for Bashir's regime under the new state of emergency.

Editor-in-Chief of al-Tayyar newspaper Osman Mirghani was arrested last week and is being held incommunicado by security services.

"We don't know anything about his health situation which requires special treatment," his son Jihad Mirghani told al-Hadath. He claimed the NISS have denied Mirghani necessary medication.

Journalist Abdel Gadir al-Oshari was also arrested on Wednesday. Although Sudanese courts have dropped cases against several journalists over the past few days, newspapers continue to face censorship from the NISS.

Al-Jareeda newspaper declared on Thursday it had been forced to stop publishing both in print and online by security services.

Protests erupted in mid-December when a government decision to cut surpluses led to tripled bread prices, exacerbating the financial situation of many in a country which has witnessed a severe economic decline in recent years.

The bread protests quickly spread across the country and took on a broader political message - calling on Bashir, who took power in a 1989 military coup, to step down.

Sudanese officials claim 30 people have died in protest-related violence, but activists put the tally at 57. They also say some of those killed died under torture.

Human Rights Watch says at least 51 have been killed during the brutal crackdown.

The United States, Britain, Norway and Canada criticised the state of emergency as a "return to military rule" on Tuesday, following Bashir's replacement of province governors with military generals.

Sudan's foreign ministry hit back at the statement on Wednesday, which it called a foreign "intervention" into its affairs.

"The state of emergency will not impact freedoms of people and their rights," the foreign ministry claimed.

"Measures being adopted under the newly declared state of emergency, the increased role of the military in governing the country, further curtail fundamental freedoms and undermine the recent offer of a new political dialogue," the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the situation in Sudan said on Thursday.

"The EU expects the Sudanese government to release all journalists, members of the opposition, human rights defenders and other protesters in detention."

Agencies contributed to this report.

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