Urgent Appeal

Sudan: The use of criminal law to target critics must stop!


Paris-Geneva, September 24, 2021 – Within four days, three outspoken human rights defenders have been targeted by the authorities in retaliation for their online and offline criticism of State institutions and for their calls for accountability for past human rights violations, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH) denounced today. The Sudanese authorities must put an end to the use of the criminal law to silence journalists and human rights defenders, and provide an enabling environment for freedom of expression.

On September 15, 2021, journalist and woman human rights defender Aisha Al-Majidi was arbitrarily arrested upon her arrival at the Department of Cybercrimes of the Sudanese police in Khartoum, on the basis of a summons issued by the Cybercrime Prosecutor of Sudan. The summons followed the filing of two separate cases against her on the charge of "defamation" (article 159 of the Sudanese Criminal Code) by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Committee for the Removal of Empowerment. Aisha Al-Majidi was released on September 16, 2021. The case is pending before the Prosecutor and can be referred to court at any time.

The judicial harassment against Aisha Al-Majidi is related to two messages the defender posted on her social media in early September 2021 in which she called for the dissolution of the RSF and the use of its infrastructure to build new hospitals, childcare homes and orphanages in Sudan. Aisha Al-Majidi also expressed her views on the role the Committee for the Removal of Empowerment is having in the ongoing Sudanese transition to democracy.

The Observatory recalls that the RSF was established by the Al-Bashir regime in 2013 to fight rebel armed groups in Sudan, and designated a regular military force under the transitional constitutional charter of Sudan. International human rights organisations have accused the RSF of comitting crimes against humanity during the war in Darfur. Moreover, this military force carried multiple unlawful detentions of civilians throughout 2020 and had a leading role in the June 2019 Khartoum massacre, where more than 100 people were killed.

Just four days before the arrest of Aisha Al-Majidi, on September 11, 2021, two young civil rights activists Musab Zakaria and Suleiman Jamal were arbitrarily arrested by members of the RSF while they were protesting against the Vice-President of the Sovereign Council and the Commander in Chief of the RSF in front of a mosque in the neighbourhood of Umbada, in the city of Ombdurman. Both activists were peacefully demanding justice and accountability for crimes committed by the RSF against civilians. Musab Zakaria and Suleiman Jamal were transferred to an unknown location and later brought to the Al-Rashideen police station in Omburdman, where a criminal case was filed against them on charges of "disturbance of public peace" and "public nuisance" (articles 68 and 77 of the Sudanese Criminal Code). No witnesses or complainants were present when the case was filed. In the evening of September 11, Musab Zakaria and Suleiman Jamal were transferred to the Khartoum North police station in the city of Khartoum. They were released on bail on September 12, 2021, only after a police officer appeared as a complainant and thus the investigations were completed.

The Observatory expresses its concern over the judicial harassment of Aisha Al-Majidi, Musab Zakaria and Suleiman Jamal, which seems to be used to target their legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory is further concerned about the use of the Criminal Code and the Cybercrimes Act to target human rights defenders and online critics in Sudan, including women rights defenders Khadeeja Aldewaihi and Waad Bahjat, and calls on the authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure their right to freedom of expression is duly respected and protected.

The Observatory urges the authorities in Sudan to put an immediate end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Aisha Al-Majidi, Musab Zakaria and Suleiman Jamalas well as all human rights defenders in the country. The Observatory further urges the authorities to take all necessary measures to guarantee the right to freedom expression online and offline in the country, in accordance with articles 56 and 57 of the 2019 Constitutional Declaration of Sudan and the relevant international and regional human rights standards, in particular Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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