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When Torture Survivors Turn the Tables

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When Torture Survivors Turn the Tables

Posted by Enough Team on February 20, 2012

When Torture Survivors Turn the Tables

Editor's Note: Activist, restaurateur, and guest blogger Magdy el-Baghdady recently returned to London from Khartoum, where he was detained in one of Sudan's most infamous prisons: Kober. He offered this horrifying insider's perspective on the violence prisoners there endure. Please be aware that some of el-Baghdady's descriptions are graphic.

A version of this post originally appeared in English and Arabic on

I am the first British citizen held by the government of Sudan as a political prisoner in its notorious Kober Prison in Khartoum without access to an attorney, and no permission to contact the British embassy. I was arrested, brutally interrogated, and falsely accused of being a spy and inciting an Arab Spring before being released without charge. While I was not politically active then, I am now, because of my ordeal and what I witnessed.

I was arrested on February 14, 2011, then held in four prisons in Sudan and released without charge on April 23, 2011. I thought my situation was unique; I came to learn this is the standard procedure of the outlaw Khartoum regime led by President Omar al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal.

The foreign men I met in prison from Chad, Jordan, Nigeria, Egypt and India related their similar circumstances and experiences. We were all tortured, beaten, starved, and intimidated to the highest degree without respect for universal human rights. However, as horrible and unconscionable as the brutality we endured was, foreigners have it relatively easy, in comparison to what the Sudanese detainees must endure. To witness the shocking treatment the Sudanese must go through is deeply disturbing.

The brutal violence Bashir’s government inflicts upon his own people behind closed doors is unspeakable. And that is precisely why I feel compelled to speak, in order to help bring such suffering to an end.

In the Political Remand section of Kober Prison, everyone is tortured; at least, I saw and heard of no exceptions. With my own eyes, I witnessed men being taken from the cells, and returned later in the day broken from systematic torture. There are rooms within Kober Prison with tires hung from ceilings. Men are stripped naked and put through the tyies. They are suspended and flogged for hours, sodomized and burnt. It disturbed me that an officer from Sudan’s national security service, or NISS, could do this to his own kind, to treat his own countrymen this way.

In other rooms, there are customized ceiling fans that support the weight of a man suspended from them. The officers strip the prisoner naked, lower his trousers to his ankles and cuff his feet. They suspend him upside-down on the fan and beat him with electric cables and batons. This torture is to break the prisoner’s will, to soften him so he will confess to anything he is accused of. 

It shocked me to see that when men returned to the cells, they did not complain of the beatings, and they did not cry from physical pain. What actually destroyed their hearts was having the threat of gang rape upon the women of their families repeated to them. I could see these men would sign any confession, whether there was evidence of their guilt or not, and even if they were innocent, to ensure the safety of the women of their families. One inmate told me of the techniques used, such a tube inserted into their penises and tied at either end to stop them urinating and cause the utmost agony. Some men had all their fingernails and toenails removed, and were stripped naked and chained to the horizontal bars of the windows if they dared to hunger strike.

While I was in prison, I was told of two 10-year-old children held there. What possible political threat is a child to Bashir? I witnessed for myself the beating of children. Two young boys who had Western-style haircuts and were caught breakdancing were in the same cell as me. Officers entered the cells with weapons and locked themselves in. They held one child to the wall and used a thick plastic pipe to beat this child’s legs. He was one meter away from me. I had to sit and watch this officer systematically thrash this child until the boy could barely stand, his thighs swollen. The boy was shaking and unable to control his bowels. This officer was three times the size of this boy. Never in my life have I heard or seen such a crime against children.

I am ashamed to admit I sat there and did nothing. So now I am doing something: I am sharing this boy’s story because he is in no position to do so. And I’m asking you to listen and consider what you might be in a position to do.

To mention what they did to me seems light in comparison. For eight days, I was blindfolded, handcuffed, and shackled at the feet. They took me to a wall outside the cells to a transfer area and beat me across my back and forearms. I was punched in the face and shoulder, and kicked in the testicles. They held me against a wall with other men and performed a mock execution; they held the muzzles of their weapons to the back of my head and cocked their weapons. I could hear the click, and wondered if this would be my end. But it was just another form of torture, and it did not end.

They starved us. I lost 40kg of body weight during three months in prison. And I have a fractured right foot, burns on my left foot. Shackles and stones cut my ankles while I was beaten. During the first days, I must admit I felt sorry for myself and thought I was strong. By the time of my release, I didn't feel nearly so strong anymore after watching what happens to Sudanese people.

I am ashamed to even write about what happened to me, I have suppressed the feeling of when I was hurt. I remember very clearly seeing the savagery inflicted on the Sudanese though, which makes my blood run cold. When I compare the treatment of kids half my size and age, and the strength they had to endure it, I can only say further how weak I feel in comparison to them.

The most important thing to say is: There is no permanent condition. All things are destined to change. Revolution this time is possible, because the time we are living in now is different from any other. Social networking and communications provide a platform unlike any other moment in history. We must all take advantage of this moment, this opportunity.

We must stand up for universal human rights, and fight for the hope of a better future for everyone’s children, if Sudan is to be a place that represents opportunities for all Sudanese people, men and women in all regions, of all ages, beliefs and political parties. I have seen people willing to resist the Khartoum regime to the death. But for me, the question is, how can we all work together to make Sudan a place that we all want to live in? That is the question that must keep Bashir awake at night, feeling isolated and weak. May we show the world what happens when torture survivors turn the tables on this despotic regime and rebuild Sudan guided by a vision of democracy.

Magdy el-Baghdady, 31, is a British restaurateur raised in West London, who traveled to Khartoum, Sudan, in January 2011 to open a food truck and serve barbecued and smoked chicken and chips on Nile Street.