Sudanese security forces arrested dozens of President Umar al-Bashir’s political opponents and subjected some to heavy beatings during this month’s elections that the incumbent won by a landslide, Human Rights Watch said.
Authorities detained opposition party members, students and political activists, including people campaigning for a boycott, before, during and after the mid-April vote, the New York-based rights group said Wednesday in a statement. Many being held face serious charges, including for crimes the North African nation punishes by death, it said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadig said he couldn’t immediately comment when contacted by Bloomberg News.
“Instead of allowing people to express their views peacefully, the government is snatching up political activists and beating, torturing, and jailing them, without the slightest pretense of respect for basic rights,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.
Al-Bashir, who’s ruled Sudan for a quarter century, won 94 percent of the vote in elections originally scheduled for April 13-15 that were extended by a day after reports of low turnout. The main opposition parties didn’t field presidential or legislative candidates, with some participating in a campaign calling for a boycott. The U.S., U.K. and Norway said before the polls that Sudan had failed to “create a free, fair and conducive elections environment.”
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies said there had been 22 arrests on April 12 alone, while Human Rights Watch said monitoring groups have reported “dozens” of additional arrests.
One of the most high-profile cases involved political activist Sandra Kadouda, who was seized by armed men on April 12 as she traveled to an event at the opposition Umma Party headquarters in Omdurman, the twin city of the capital, Khartoum. She was held for three days at an undisclosed location and then freed “visibly bruised” and with shoulder injuries, Human Rights Watch said, citing “credible sources.”
The National Intelligence and Security Service denied it was responsible for her arrest, with officials later censoring a newspaper article about her detention, according to the rights group. NISS officers also detained and beat with batons a Khartoum University student leader on April 19, while a lawyer arrested from his office a week earlier said he was blindfolded and beaten with pipes, Human Rights Watch said.
Al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity during Sudan’s decade-long Darfur conflict, took power in a 1989 coup. He won a 2010 presidential election, the legitimacy of which was questioned by international observers, including the European Union.
The North African nation’s electoral commission said turnout at this month’s polls was 46.4 percent, a figure that Sarah Naqd-Allah, secretary-general of the Umma Party, said had been “made up.” An African Union observer mission earlier said turnout was “generally low” at an estimated 30 percent to 35 percent, and that it was “not unlikely” that opposition calls for a boycott had some effect on participation.