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Activists Abused, Newspapers Closed As Sudan Counts Down to Referendum

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Activists Abused, Newspapers Closed As Sudan Counts Down to Referendum

Posted by Laura Heaton on July 9, 2010

Activists Abused, Newspapers Closed As Sudan Counts Down to Referendum

This post originally appeared on’s Human Rights blog.

A tense two days fortunately ended with the release of three Sudanese activists detained and beaten by the notorious security forces in Khartoum this week. The activists were stopped on Tuesday while distributing the first edition of a magazine published by the human rights group Girifna, which rose to prominence in the lead-up to the April elections in Sudan.

In a post on Girifna’s website, the group reported that the security officers said it was a situation that “does not involve the police.” When Girifna’s lawyers tried to get involved, they were told that instructions for handling the activists were “coming from a higher authority.”

The three activists — Hassan Ishag, Azzi Eldine Al-anssari and Mohammed Khiri — were released on Wednesday without charge and in good health after being beaten, threatened, and terrorized, the group said. Girifna also reported that their houses had been searched. A source familiar with the situation suggested that the security services sought to convince the activists to become informants.

Not exactly a rousing affirmation of the “progress made so far to expand democratic space in Sudan” that the U.S., U.K., and Norway declared following the Sudanese election. (To be fair, they recognized the observers’ assessment that the elections “failed to meet international standards,” but they mostly chalked up this failing to technical and logistical issues.)

No, clearly any space for journalists and civil society that opened up prior to the election has snapped closed since the international spotlight turned off and President Bashir was declared the victor.

A report by Human Rights Watch last week documented the state-sponsored abuses that occurred prior to, during, and after the April elections. In sum, Human Rights Watch found that "the elections were supposed to help expand democracy in Sudan, but they have had the opposite effect." Events that have transpired in the past week further underscore this damning conclusion.

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Photo: Activists with Girifna (courtesy of Girifna)