Sudan’s emergency has been ‘lifted’ but protesters continue to face repression

While international bodies, including the EU and UN, have welcomed the lifting of the state of emergency, little has changed on the ground, according to pro-democracy activists

June 03, 2022 by Pavan Kulkarni
Security forces flooded the Burri neighborhood in Khartoum with tear gas on May 31

Four days into the lifting of the state of emergency in Sudan on May 29, the nation-wide pro-democracy protests and the violent crackdown against them by the security forces of the military junta show no signs of waning.

At least 40 protesters were injured in the crackdown on the mass demonstrations demanding civilian rule on May 30 and 31, according to reports by the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD). 14 were shot with live ammunition. Many others sustained injuries from direct hits by tear gas canisters and from asphyxiation due to inhalation.

“On ground, there is no difference made by the lifting of emergency. It was only done on paper to pull a wool over the eyes of the international community, which anyway was only asking the junta to make some gesture of good will to start what they call dialogue,” Rashid El Sheik, member of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), told Peoples Dispatch. “The junta is dangling this small carrot, while still using the stick.”

By the time the state of emergency was formally lifted on May 29, security forces had injured over 4,500 demonstrators and killed at least 98 since the military coup on October 25, 2021. 35 demonstrators have lost limbs or organs, and eight are paralyzed. At least 464 gunshot wounds have been documented since the coup from the records in 15 hospitals. 57 of these shots are to the head, 57 to chest and 59 to abdomen.

Over 550 of the injured are still undergoing treatment, according to the Hadhreen organization. A data analysis published in February showed that more than 42.5% of injuries to protestors until then were caused by tear gas: 22.5% by direct firing of canisters to heads and other parts of bodies, and 20% due to inhalation.

In the aftermath of the violent crackdown on May 31, thick clouds of tear gas hung low over the entire neighborhood of Burri Al Mahas in Khartoum. Many deemed it to be a “collective punishment” against all residents for supporting the pro-democracy protests, even if they themselves did not take part in it.


“Does my blood look like water to you?”

“Does my blood look like water to you?” opened a statement issued by the Resistance Committees (RCs) of the Burri district the next morning of June 1. The statement called on residents to take to the streets to prevent the deputy chairman of the military junta, General Mohamad Hamdan Daglo aka ‘Hemeti’, from visiting their area to inaugurate the 39th Khartoum International Fair.

Hemeti is the head of the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Constituted from the militias that were used to commit alleged war crimes and genocide in the Darfur region in the course of the civil war, the RSF is repeatedly deployed against unarmed pro-democracy protesters.

“Two days from now is the third anniversary of the massacre by RSF of (over 100) protesters outside the army HQ (on June 3, 2019),” read the statement, reaffirming that the memory of the “martyrs” will not be forgotten, and that Hemeti will be resisted.

Enduring more violence by the security forces, the pro-democracy protesters led by the Burri RCs made it to the gates of the venue of this fair and set up burning barricades, whereupon Hemeti canceled his plan to inaugurate the fair.

The RSF announced that Hemeti’s plan was canceled because an emergency meeting had been scheduled with Volker Perthes, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for Sudan and head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). Meanwhile, more bullets and tear gas were fired at the protesters outside this international fair.

“At every march, we lose a comrade, either to death, injury or arrest”

Omdurman, Madani, Atbara and several other cities and towns across Sudan have also been protesting. In Khartoum alone, multiple protests were underway in several different neighborhoods.

In the Al Kalakla neighborhood, the RCs held the streets on June 1 for the fourth consecutive day since May 28, when one protester was shot dead in the chest, and another suffocated to death on tear gas. The situation in this area is tense, with heavily armed security forces amassed at all key intersections by the afternoon of June 2, Al Kalakla’s RCs said in an update.

“At every march, we lose a comrade, either to death, injury or arrest,” Suleyma Amir, spokesperson of the RCs in Al Kalakla, told Peoples Dispatch. “All the repressive machines of the state that were directed against us during the emergency continue to increase their brutality even after the emergency is lifted. So, we do not see any difference.”

Of the 33 arrested from Al Kalakla on May 28, six remain in custody according to an update on May 31. Custodial torture is widespread.

Minor hung upside down, beaten, deprived of water and hammered with nails 

On the very day the emergency was lifted, the trial of three teenagers — including the minor 17 year-old Mohamad Adam aka ‘Tupac’ who was subjected to severe torture — began. Security forces, who had arrested him from a hospital while he was undergoing treatment for a bullet wound to his leg during the protests on January 13, accused him and his two companions of stabbing a police brigadier.

During the interrogation, however, officials did not ask Tupac about the stabbed policeman. Instead, he was questioned about the source of funding of the protests and the names of the members of the local RC, according to the lawyers who are arguing his innocence.

During the first three weeks of his custody, when he was held incommunicado with no access to family members, lawyers or doctors, Tupac was reportedly hung upside down from his injured leg, continuously beaten and deprived of water.

His lawyers and human rights groups say that his torturers had removed the plaster on his gunshot-injured leg, without medical care. When his mother was finally able to see him in custody later in February, he was unable to walk. She reported that nails had been hammered onto both his legs.

Appearing for their trial’s first hearing on May 29, Tupac and and his companions, including 18-year-old El Fateh who suffered back injuries from torture, raised the victory gesture to supporters who had flocked to Khartoum court in solidarity – chanting slogans in praise of their courage. Radio Dabanga reported that the first detective in the case failed to appear in court, and the hearing was postponed to June 12.

In the meantime, security forces attacked the vigil that was held in solidarity with the tortured activists outside the Judicial Sciences Institute in eastern Khartoum. Four protesters from the vigil were detained for a day, two of whom reported custodial abuse.

While coup leader and head of the military junta General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan had promised on lifting the state of emergency that all political prisoners will be released, over 70 remain in prisons, and 12 others in the custody of the criminal investigations department, according to Emergency Lawyers. The organization also reported “continued arrests of children” and “enforced disappearances”.

“They will not pass”

However, despite the continued violence and arrests by security forces over the subsequent days, the UN welcomed the supposed lifting of the state of emergency on May 31. Lauding it “as commendable first steps in creating the much needed conducive environment for dialogue,” the EU called upon all forces to engage in a dialogue with the military junta.

The UNITAMS, the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) had together launched the Tripartite Mechanism on May 12 to initiate a dialogue. Only right-wing and centrist political parties are showing interest in these negotiations. The pro-democracy protest movement has denounced these parties for sharing power with the military junta to form the joint civil-military transitional government in 2019, after the December Revolution overthrew dictator Omar al-Bashir.

These civilian political forces willing to compromise once again with the military include three relatively small parties, along with the leadership of the National Umma Party (NUP), which is thought to be among the largest in the country, Sheik said. “However,” he added, “the rank-and-file of this large party are standing with the protesters on the streets, so NUP is giving mixed signals.”

Even though the US and its Western and regional allies have been hard at work to bring about an agreement between the military and these parties to resurrect the joint civil-military transitional government dissolved in the coup, Sheik remains confident that “they will not pass”. No government, at this point, will be able to rule without the approval of the revolutionary forces which lead the majority on the streets, he argues.

“The revolutionary forces include the Resistance Committees, the Communist party, the trade unions and the civil society organizations. None of them accept any government in which the military has political power. All revolutionary forces remain adamant that sitting and discussing the future of Sudan with the military gives the coup a legality which it does not and should not have. And you simply cannot convince the generals to hand over power so that we can use it to prosecute them for their crimes,” Sheik reasons.

“This is the third coup d’etat to abort the democratic revolution in Sudan. But this time, the people of Sudan are determined to put an end to military rule once and for all. Although the price is going to be higher than in the past,” he argues, “this is the only way to firmly place our feet on the road to a democratic civil state.”

Omer Zahran, spokesperson of the Coordination of RCs in Khartoum added that the continuation of the “repressive campaigns” after lifting the emergency reaffirms the correctness of slogan raised by the RCs that there can be “No negotiation, no compromise and no legitimacy given to the coup authorities.” The only correct action with regards to the military junta is to bring about its “downfall”, he insists.

Preparations are underway across the country for mass demonstrations on June 3 to commemorate the “martyrs” on the third anniversary of their massacre in Khartoum in 2019. Hundreds of thousands are expected to participate in the barricading of key roads, marches, sit-in protests and other actions planned for the day.

The uncompromising position vis-a-vis the military junta was reiterated in a joint statement issued ahead of this anniversary protest by the RCs – over 5,200 of which are organized in neighborhoods across Sudan, forming the backbone of the resistance.

The Sudanese people, it read, will not relent before dealing the “decisive” blow to “overthrow the coup authority, completely remove the military from the political process, and prosecute all those responsible for violence… against peaceful revolutionaries and innocent citizens.”