In an alarming move of oppression, the ruling party in Khartoum cracked down on an opposition rally early Monday morning, sowing further doubts about the possibility for democratic elections in April. Around 70 members of the opposition, including three senior leaders of the southern ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLM, were arrested by Khartoum police, according to the latest from major news wires.
Pagan Amum, SPLM’s Secretary General, Yassir Arman, Deputy Secretary General of SPLM in the north, and Abbas Gummas, state minister in the coalition government, were arrested during a rally in which thousands of demonstrators turned out to call for electoral reforms. Southern protestors reacted angrily to the arrests by setting fire to the ruling National Congress Party’s offices in Wau and Rumbek, two state capitals in South Sudan. The three leaders have since been released.
20 Sudanese opposition parties had called on supporters to rally outside the Sudanese parliament Monday to demand the passing of several pieces of stalled legislation. Among the oppositions’ demands were reforms to the National Security Act, which currently allows Khartoum’s security apparatus to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals, and the passing of a referendum legislation that is crucial for South Sudan to implement its vote for secession set for 2011.
Sudanese authorities made a last minute announcement on Sunday banning the rally, calling the protest illegal because organizers had only notified authorities of the rally and did not apply for permission, according to Reuters.
The thousands of protestors who marched through Khartoum and neighboring city Omdurman chanting “We want our freedom,” were repulsed by police who used tear-gas and batons, according to several sources. Khartoum police issued a statement denying the use of tear-gas.
AFP reported that the relatives of northern opposition leaders, including the son of Hassan al-Turabi, head of the National Islamic Front, and several children and grandchildren of Sadiq al-Mahdi, head of the Umma party, were arrested. 70 other demonstrators were also detained.
In the aftermath of the arrests, the SPLM called an emergency meeting in South Sudan’s capital and issued a statement decrying the NCP’s suppression of rights:
“This arrest of the SPLM leaders is a clear sign that the elections will not be free and fair in April 2010. The NCP can arrest anybody during the elections’ campaign if they can now arrest their only partner the SPLM leaders. (…) This act by the NCP Security is a violation of the freedom of expression of the citizens’ rights in Sudan which are embedded in the CPA and the Interim National Constitution of Sudan and must be stopped and the world should hold NCP accountable if the situation deteriorated in to crisis. The SPLM condemned this move and the world must intervene to rescue the situation”
In an interview from prison on Al-Jazeera’s “This Morning” news program, Amum confirmed that multiple arrests were made. He said that the demonstration was not illegal and that the groups had informed the police 72 hours prior to the rally, as stated by law.
Stay tuned for further developments.