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Africa

Sudan: Detained students face an 'increased risk of torture'

Security forces in Sudan have reportedly detained and is currently holding dozens of students and activists. Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on the Sudanese government to release or charge these individuals.

In April 2016, government security forces, including national security and riot police, clamped down on student demonstrations against the sale of Khartoum University buildings, as well as the earlier detention of protesters and a range of other issues at campuses across Sudan.

According to HRW, some have been held for more than a month in unknown locations without access to lawyers or contact with their families.

The Deputy Director for HRW's Africa Division, Leslie Lefkow, told DW that the victims were at increased risk of torture.

DW: The government of President Bashir is known for not being democratic. Do these arrests come as a surprise to you?

Leslie Lefkow: The arrests in Sudan are not a surprise. The country has a long and pretty horrible record of arresting and detaining students and activists over some years now. These particular arrests are very worrying because many of these students were arrested when they were participating in protests over the last two months or so, particulary at universities in Sudan's capital Khartoum. They were protesting the sale of Khartoum University and other issues. We have seen government security forces using a range of methods to clamp down and crack down on these protests.

Why has the government been targeting students at this point in time?

This particular set of arrests is largely linked to students who are believed to be connected to these protests. However, there is much bigger trend and problem with arrests of students, of journalists and activists throughout Sudan.

Human Rights Watch - Leslie Lefkow EINSCHRÄNKUNG

Leslie Lefkow calls on Sudanese government to put an end to abuses

We have documented, just like other organizations, hundreds of arrests over the years. Sometimes they were mistreated, tortured and held for weeks or months without charge. So, we call on the government to immediately act and release or charge these individuals.

Those arrested are being held without access to lawyers or contact with family. Do think they will be able to have a fair trial?

There are very serious concerns about many of these individuals getting a fair trial. We have seen repeated problems in the judiciary. Sudanese courts are often lacking independence. I mean, the problems started before there's even any trial because the arrests were not lawful. It's the National Intelligence Service that is actually arresting people and they have no legal mandate to do so.

Is it normal for people arrested in Sudan to be held for this long without being charged?

Unfortunately, it's not unusual for people in Sudan to be arrested and held for long periods without charge, without access to the family members and often without access to a lawyer. Over the last few years, we have seen Sudanese people trying to protest. You may remember that in 2013 there were wide-scale protests in the Sudanese capital Khartoum and other cities. The government cracked down on those protests in a dramatic and horrific way and more than 170 people were killed. Until today, we are yet to see justice for those killings.

Leslie Lefkow is the deputy director for Human Rights Watch's Africa Division. She has specialized in investigating abuses in armed conflicts.

Interview: Jane Ayeko Kümmeth

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