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In Sudanese Jails

To the Editors:

As writers and scholars concerned with events in North-east Africa we would like to draw the attention of your readers to the rapidly worsening human rights situation in Sudan.

Since the military coup of June 1989 the ruling Revolutionary Command Council under the leadership of General Omar al-Bashir has detained without trial hundreds of doctors, journalists, academics, lawyers, teachers, politicians and civil servants. A businessman has been executed for alleged currency offences and a prominent doctor and lecturer, Mamoun Mohammed Hussein, sentenced to death for ‘waging war against the state.’ Dr. Mamoun’s crime was to chair a meeting that called a strike protesting against the dismissal of a number of his colleagues; his trial took place before a military tribunal; he had no legal counsel; evidence used in the prosecution was obtained by torture.

The military government has dismissed or arrested dozens of judges who have objected to the violations of the rights of civilians by such tribunals. These and other actions suggest that it is bent on replacing the independent secular judiciary that the country has enjoyed since independence with a militant Islamic judiciary empowered to impose the huddud penalties already on the books: amputation, flogging and stoning.

All independent newspapers have been closed down and many of their editors arrested. A dozen lecturers from the University of Khartoum, the last bastion of free speech in Sudan, have been detained. Among them is Dr. Ushari Ahmad Mahmoud, a prominent human rights activist who was responsible for revealing the complicity of the previous government in a massacre of Southern Sudanese by a northern militia in the town of Al Da’ein in Darfur in 1987.

A similar incident in January this year at Al-Jebelain in Central province, where several hundred unarmed southern migrant workers and their families were killed by Arab militiamen using automatic weapons, confirms the official recognition and support that is being accorded to such militias by the new regime.

These abuses of civil rights, documented in recent reports by Amnesty International and Africa Watch, occur in a context of mounting political crisis and incipient famine in Sudan, whose economy has been sapped by six years of civil war.

Since September last year no visits have been permitted to the detainees. Conditions in the prisons where they are held are known to be poor. Calls for their release or fair trial and for their right to humane treatment while in detention may be addressed to: His Excellency the Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of Sudan, 2210 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC, 20008.

Richard Gray, Professor Emeritus ofAfrican History, London University;
Wendy James, Lecturer in Anthropology,Oxford University;
Mark Duffield,Lecturer in International Urban Development, University of Birmingham;
Tim Niblock, Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern Politics, University of Exeter;
John Ryle, Douglas Johnson;
Alex de Waal, Andrew Mawson;
Gill Lusk, Peter Moszynski;
Peter Verney, Charles Gurdon .

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