Sudan’s security forces have used sexual violence and other forms of abuse against female human rights defenders, according to Human Rights Watch.

Women involved in protests, rights campaigns, social services, legal aid and journalism have faced a range of abuses for their activism, the New York-based group said in a 61-page report released Thursday. The findings were based on interviews with more than 85 female activists and human rights defenders between November 2014 and January 2016.

Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman didn’t answer phone calls seeking comment.

Almost all of those interviewed reported they had experienced some form of gender-based violence, ranging from rape and assault to attacks on their reputation and verbal harassment. In some cases, “traumatized and frightened of future abuse,” women were forced to flee the country or remain in Sudan but tone down or quit their activism.

“Sudanese women who defend human rights experience political repression like their male colleagues but are also vulnerable to sexual assault and intimidation because they are women,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Sudanese security officials often take advantage of discriminatory laws and social conventions to silence them.”

Rape Threat

In one of the documented cases, Safiya Ishaq, an artist and active member of the Girifna youth movement, was abducted off the street by two male plainclothes security agents who took her to the intelligence office where agents beat and raped her for several hours. She was released without charge after the men threatened to rape her again if she continued her activities, HRW said. She fled the country in March 2011.

Sudanese armed forces and militias have committed mass rape against women in the western region of Darfur, using sexual violence as a weapon of war, the group said in a January report.

President Umar al-Bashir, 72, has ruled Sudan for a quarter century since taking power in a military coup. The ICC, based in The Hague, indicted al-Bashir in 2009 and 2010 for his role in atrocities in Darfur, where insurgents took up arms in 2003. As many as 300,000 people have died in the conflict, mainly from illness and starvation, according to the United Nations.

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