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Sudan’s military junta released 125 protesters and lifted the state of emergency on May 29, signaling an attempt to ink a new partnership with political parties. The decision came following a recommendation from the Security and Defense council a day earlier.
Military Commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who plunged the country into a political crisis through spearheading the coup that toppled the civilian administration on October 25, 2021, said that the moves were ‘confidence-building’ gestures to create a conducive environment for political talks.
Officials from the European Union (EU), France, Germany, and the Troika – the U.S, U.K and Norway – welcomed the move. These countries have continued to back a tripartite process which consists of the U.N mission in Sudan known as UNITAMS, the African Union (AU), and the east-African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
The tripartite process has been heavily criticized by experts and protesters for failing to push the military to dilute power and halt violence. Even the head of the U.N mission in Sudan, Volker Perthes, recently told reporters that he believed in incentivizing the junta to relinquish power, rather than apply sanctions to compel them to do so.
While experts disagreed, the lifting of the state of emergency attempted to restore the tripartite process with some credibility. But in the eyes of the sprawling pro-democracy movement, the symbolic gesture has done little to end human rights abuses or restore a genuine transition to democracy.
Just a day after the state of emergency ended, security forces injured 33 protesters, six of whom were shot with live ammunition. That same week, the Khartoum neighborhood of Burri was flooded with tear gas to try and crush ongoing demonstrations. All the while, UNITAMS released a statement over Twitter – which it later deleted – urging authorities to respect ‘peaceful assembly’ and to refrain from excessive force in order to preserve a climate for political talks.
Activists and experts harshly criticized the remarks, with some privately telling Fanack that the statement read as if UNITAMS cared more about protecting the political process than civilians.
Public perception of the tripartite process – and broader global community – took another hit after security forces shot dead a protester on the anniversary of the sit-in massacre that left 120 people killed in its wake on June 3, 2019. Another young man was killed in the city of Omdurman three days later, according to Sudanese rights groups.
The bodies of two more men were tossed outside of a morgue in Khartoum on June 7. That same day, a young man and a child were killed, bringing the total number of deaths from anti-coup protests to 101 since the military’s power grab.
Perhaps the lone positive sign since the lifting of the state of emergency has been the decline in enforced disappearances and unlawful detentions, where torture frequently occured in facilities run by the Central Investigations Department (CID).
A report by Human Rights Watch monitoring Sudan revealed that the junta used the CID to bypass the courts under the state of emergency. But now the military can lean on the courts again after restoring a number of Bashir era loyalists to the judiciary since the coup.
In fact, one of the first moves by the putschists was to appoint Abdelaziz Fathal al-Rahman and Khalifa Ahmed Khalifa – two well known Islamists from Bashir’s era – to the posts of chief of justice and public prosecutor, respectively. Both positions were previously vacant because al-Burhan had refused to approve the candidates that the previous civilian administration nominated.
The courts are now overseeing the trial of Mohamad Adam, a 17-year-old boy that goes by the nickname ‘Tupac.’ Adam is one of four suspects that stands accused of killing a senior policeman who mysteriously died on January 13. That same week, he was abducted from a hospital where he was being treated for wounds that he sustained during protests.
Adam’s lawyers say that he was held in incommunicado detention in a CID facility for three weeks. During that span, he was questioned about a protest group called the Ghadiboun, which means ‘the angered people,’ as well as the source of funding behind the protest movement.
Adam was hardly questioned about the crime authorities accused him of committing, suggesting that the interrogation was intended to compile information about the protest movement rather than genuinely investigate the death of the officer. Still, security forces tortured Adam into fasly confessing to the murder. According to Adam’s lawyers, prison guards hammered nails into his ankle, tied him upside down, and burned him with cigarettes. He was then denied medical treatment.
Adam’s ordeal has become a rallying cry for protesters, who see the young man as resembling friends and families in their own communities. But unlike the global community, who has stayed mostly mum about the case, protesters and lawyers gathered outside the courtroom when the trial commenced on May 29 – the same day that the state of emergency was lifted.
Before entering the courtroom, Adam raised his two fingers to signal the victory sign after stepping down from a barricaded police vehicle, prompting cheers from spectators. Mohammad al-Fateh, who is also accused of killing the same officer, did the same.
Their gesture of defiance was photographed and shared between activists and protesters across social media. The photos inspired the pro-democracy movement more than the lifting of the state of emergency, which has failed to halt injustices across the country.
That hasn’t stopped the tripartite process from going ahead with formal talks on June 8. However, both the street movement and the Forces for Freedom and Change – a loose cohort of civilian parties – refused to participate due to the presence of the military and Islamists, who have leaned on each other since the coup.
The dialogue went ahead anyways, signaling the hollowness of an internationally backed political process that has failed to win the confidence of anybody – besides the putschists.