Sudan’s military junta starts releasing political prisoners, lifts state of emergency

Chairperson of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan. PHOTO- Mahmoud Hjaj-Anadolu Agency via Getty

The African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission (Unitams) say the release of political prisoners in Sudan is a positive step forward and will address the impasse created by last year’s coup.

The military seized power in Sudan on 25 October 2021, toppling a transitional government composed of civilians and military officials.

The new rulers declared a state of emergency that granted expanded power to the security forces.

In a statement, the AU, IGAD and Unitams – monikered the “Trilateral Mechanism” – commended the authorities in Sudan for lifting the state of emergency put in place by the military-led sovereign council soon after the coup.

They said: “The AU-IGAD-UN Trilateral Mechanism welcomes the authorities’ decision to lift the state of emergency and the release of the political detainees as a positive step to create the conditions needed for reaching a peaceful resolution for the current political impasse following the 25 October coup.”

The release of political prisoners in Sudan started on Sunday, two days after the AU summit on terrorism and unconstitutional changes of government, which was held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

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In Malabo, AU member states agreed that they needed to reverse the tide of coup d’états by improving governance and respect for constitutionalism.

“We unequivocally condemn all forms of unconstitutional changes of government in Africa and reiterate our zero tolerance in this regard,” the AU said in its communiqué.

Sudan’s sovereign council said it had made the decisions because it wanted to “prepare the atmosphere for a fruitful and meaningful dialogue that achieves stability for the transitional period”.

While the Trilateral Mechanism acknowledged the recent developments, it called on leaders in Sudan to complete the release of detainees, “and take further steps that ensure the protection of the rights to peaceful assembly and expression”.

Country in turmoil

The crescendo of Sudan’s troubles was on Saturday, when hundreds of pro-democracy protesters marched through the capital, Khartoum, and two young men were killed by the security forces.

According to reports, at least 98 people have been killed and more than 4 300 wounded in a government crackdown since the October coup.

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The Trilateral Mechanism urged an end to the violence.

It said: “Violence needs to stop for the talks to genuinely take place with the aim of reaching a Sudanese-owned solution to the current political impasse.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that the violence had largely been ignored by the international community.

“The ruthless and brutal targeting of protesters is an attempt to instil fear, and has largely evaded international scrutiny,” said Mohamed Osman, Sudan researcher at HRW.

On 26 December 2021, Sudan’s military chief, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, issued an emergency order granting security forces immunity and restored arrest powers to the General Intelligence Service, which has a track record of serious abuses.

In March, the United Nations’ Joint Human Rights Office in Sudan said more than a thousand people, including 148 children, had been arrested since the coup.

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