Sudan Women Freedom of Expression & Assembly Threatened by Military and Militias

Summary :

Since July this year at least 30 women were injured or killed during protests and other incidents of violence around Sudan, all of them in the conflict areas of Darfur and Nuba Mountains. At least 7 women were arrested or faced lawsuits for participating in public events or expressing their opinion in public. Women activists, journalists, artists and remain under threats of the use of the military and its militias of their resources to shrink the public space and obstruct the rights to freedom of assembly and expression.  

Following the revolution in 2019, Sudanese women, especially women activists who led and helped making the change were looking forward to a new era of freedom, peace and justice. One year after the revolutions the situation on the ground for women activists remain unchanged in many perspectives despite notable amendments in laws and policies. But the power sharing deal that replaced the former regime has given the military and its militias like the Rapid Response Forces “ RSF”- formerly known as Jnajweed- a strong position to continue their policies of oppression and militarization of the state. These policies remain the most significant threat to the process of democratic transition in Sudan. The single handed control of economic resources, the ongoing manipulation of the legal system and the continuous use of violence against civilians in conflict and non conflict areas has weakened the power of the civilian led government. 

Alarming Military/Militia led threats and violence against women:

The continuous reported incidents of violence against women protesters and crackdown of peaceful protests in conflict areas, in addition to the army and police use of lethal weapons against peaceful protesters is an alarming sign of the deteriorating situation of freedom of assembly and expression in these areas and all of Sudan one year after the revolution. Freedom of expression has also been under attack by the new actions of the military and its militias to threaten online activists, especially women in attempt to silence them. The military is using the former regime law framework and fundamental Islamists base to threaten women freedom of assembly and expression and close the public space for women activists. 

Women activists and journalists; working on uncovering the army or its militias corruption and control of massive economic sectors in gold mining and other sectors, reported to us threats on social media and fears of lawsuits in results of their work. Although that some of these women activists and journalists live outside Sudan, but they still receive threats especially after the military announcement of taking legal actions against all activists criticizing them inside or outside the country. 

Women activists, journalists, artists and protesters remain at the fore front of continuous struggle against the militarization of the state in Sudan. The control of the state resources and law enforcement by the military and its militias imposed growing obstacles for women rights movement in Sudan. According to the constitutional document governing the country since August 2019, the defense and the interior ministers are selected by the sovereignty council which is under the leadership of the military now. The law enforcement forces are responding to the orders from military and militias which has been reflected in continuous use of violence in crackdown of protests in the last year all over Sudan, but with deadliest records in conflict areas.  

The freedom of expression has been under the attack by the military and its militias using the newly amended Cybercrimes Act. The leader of the RSF militia and the vice president of the military council known as Hamiditi; announced the intensified punishments of the law weeks before it was published, threatening to use it against all critiques of his militia and its crimes. Hamiditi militia are known of their use of rape as a weapon in Darfur and in the crackdown of the Khartoum sit in last year. The new cyber crime act has punishments that could lead to six years in prison and other heavy punishments for posting opinions or information on social media. This law is highly shrinking the space of freedom of expression for women and affecting their ability to hold the ground for the rights they gained during the revolution wnd beyond. 

The protection and extended impunity of military, police and militias officers is hindering women and women activists access to justice. The abuse of power by many law enforcement officers was never investigated and perpetrators had managed to escape any form of accountability. 

Documented Violations:

In this brief the organization documented serious of incidents in the last 5 months, where the abuse of power and the increasing militarization of thw state impose serious threats to women rights, peace and safety in Sudan. 

On September 1st, 2020, Nora Rihan a tea seller in Kadugli of Southern Kordofan was shot dead by an army officer after she refused to serve him before others. The officer took refuge in the army vase ib the city and police wasn’t able to arrest him to date despite the number of witnesses of the incident. 

In September 18, a young woman artist and activist was sentenced two month in prison for chanting the revolution chants in a police station. Doaa Tariq an artist with her six colleagues have been sentenced under the charges of public disturbance and disruption of public safety. The group was arrested by police under suspicious circumstances from their rehearsal on August 10th under the charge of violation of the Covid-19 curfew. Later this charge was dropped in the court and the other charges remained. But during the investigation with Duaa in the police station, she was slapped by a police officer who wanted to take her picture and she refused. She filed a complaint against the police officer but the complaint was never investigated or even followed by the police department or the prosecutor. 

The Sudanese army intelligence officers and police arrested 31 people from a public event on September 23rd in Abujbeiha city of Southern Kordofan state, among the detainees 5 women peace activists. The public event which was organized to address the process in the state of south Kordofan was attacked by the military intelligence officers who deemed the gathering illegal without permission from the army base leader of the city. The attacking force injured some of the participants and arrested over 30 of them among them and took to the army base. 

In Nertiti in Central Darfur, woman protester Mias Abdu Alkareem was killed by the police in protest against the continuous attacks by Janjaweed militias on civilians in the area. After repeated killings and rape incidents in the area of Nertiti, protesters took the street on September 10 to demand protection and end of violence. The police responded with extreme force using live ammunition and tear gas to crack down the protest, which to the death of two people and serious injuries of three. 

In the area of Mistiry in West Darfur,9 women were killed and 18 injured in an attack on peaceful sit in followed by wide range attack on the town and villages around it on July 25th,2020. The militias also described to be Janjaweed attacked the peaceful sit in and the area around it for several days before and the police and the army did not provide any protection to the civilians including women and children. 

In Khartoum following June 30, 2020 protests, a young woman protester was subjected to threats of lawsuits by army officers for reciting a poem during protests criticizing the army, which went viral on social media. On July 18th, the army issued a statement announcing taking legal actions against activists and journalists who might ‘insult’ the army online. The army appointed a legal commissioner to file cases against those activists inside and outside Sudan based on the so called the ‘ Cybercrimes act” which was recently amended with increased criminal punishments that could lead to up to six years prison for a social media post. 

In September 18, another woman artist and activist was sentenced two month in prison for chanting the revolution chants in a police station. Doaa Tariq an artist with her six colleagues have been sentenced under the charges of public disturbance and disruption of public safety. The groups was arrested by police under suspicious circumstances from their rehearsal on August 10th under the charge of violation of the Covid-19 curfew. Later this charge was dropped in the court and the other charges remained. 

During covid-19 lock down measures from April to September 7th, the Sudanese law enforcement has used the lock down to increase their strong hold on people freedom of expression and Assembly. According to the Sudanese Doctors Committee, at least 5 female doctors had been attacked by officers in military, RSF and police in check points or during duties all over Sudan. In four of the these cases documented the perpetrators were not held accountable. 

Recommended changes: 

  • The reported violations revealed the urgent need for structural reforms in the law enforcements and the military and security forces in Sudan as stated by the constitutional document.
  •  Protection of women from violence and respect for women rights should be on the top priorities for such reforms.
  •  The legal system inherited from the former regime must be reconstructed to comply with women and human rights and to ensure full access for justice for women and end impunity for military and militias and law enforcement in SGBV. 
  • Freedom of assembly and expression must be protected under all circumstances, especially in the process of this transition. 

Conclusion

Sudanese women and women activists in particular are in the front line in continuous struggle against militarization and Islamization of the state to protect their rights and freedoms. The transitional government led by the civilians is facing imminent risks in result of the growing control of the military of economic resources and security sector, which is weakened the government ability to implement its goals. Women lack of access to information, resources and decisions making positions after the transition is blocking women efforts to contribute to ending violence against women sponsored by the state actors. Although the constitutional documented granted 40% participation for women in the parliament and supposedly in all traditional institutions, but the reality remain far from this percentage. Out of the recently appointed civilian 18 state governors, women had only two governors. One of the women governors from the river Nile state reported lack of cooperation and accused the army of refusing to obey her orders as a governor of the state. 

The civilian led government in Sudan and women leading the change on the ground are in need of major support to successfully complete the process of transition. The international community must work strategically with the civilian led government and women rights groups and all involved actors to make sure that women rights are protected and the role of the military in the transition is not hindering the democratic change in Sudan.