An unexpected run-in in Sudan

A family visit to Sudan turns sour as a journalist is confronted by security forces amid a crackdown on widespread anti-government protests.

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    Anti-government protesters faced a crackdown by government forces in Sudan [File: Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters]
    Anti-government protesters faced a crackdown by government forces in Sudan [File: Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters]

    It had been five years since I'd visited Sudan. Recently, I returned to attend a family wedding in the capital, Khartoum.

    I was overjoyed with a nostalgic feeling. Every day, there were traditional celebrations. Spending quality time with family was heart-warming. The opportunity to get in touch with relatives and learn more about my heritage had become priceless with every passing year.

    December is known to be the best time to visit Sudan as the weather cools down and Sudanese people from all around the world return home to visit their beloved country of origin. 

    Falling asleep under the starry skies within the safe confines of the walls surrounding our home, preparing and eating traditional food while the loved ones share their stories and laughs. It is an experience that used to be filled with love and rejoicing despite the country's hardships

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    During the second week of my stay, the trip took an unexpected turn. There were rumours about uprisings in Atbara, a city in the northeast, followed by a flow of WhatsApp pictures proving them to be true.

    Knowing President Omar al-Bashir's autocratic rule, I didn't think the protests would reach the nation's capital.

    A few days later, there were counts of several scattered protests in Khartoum. Suddenly, the city was flooded with armed trucks on all major roads.

    Thousands of people took to the streets, demanding Bashir step down. I had spoken to several protesters and heard their stories of being confronted with live ammunition and tear gas.

    Unexpected run-in

    On the night of December 24, I was in Bahri in Khartoum on my way to dinner with my cousin. We were riding in a Tirhal, a ride-sharing app similar to Uber.

    Before we made it out of the neighbourhood, a convoy of National Intelligence and Security Service trucks emerged. The journalist in me saw this as an opportunity to get some visuals and send them to our office in Doha. 

    I began to film them on my iPhone from the back seat of the car. I had recorded for about 30 seconds until they made a left turn and I lost sight of them.

    Before I knew it, six trucks were speeding towards us, forming a barricade around our car. Sensing danger, I immediately hid my phone.

    'Teach me a lesson'

    Each pick-up truck carried five or six soldiers in the back. They banged on our car with their weapons and demanded that I get out, shouting, "I saw you take a picture. Get out of the car and give me your phone." I denied taking any pictures and quickly grabbed my cousin's phone and claimed it was mine.

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    I showed them the photos from that phone and assured them that I hadn't taken any pictures. The soldiers didn't seem to care and continued to yell while reaching through the window and trying to open the car's door.

    Suddenly, an officer of higher ranking walked up and asked what was going on. He leaned on the car and told us, "Listen, I have sisters and daughters. If you have any video in your phone, delete it. If anything is released, we will find you." 

    Filled with relief, I thanked him.

    He ordered the soldiers to clear the road, but they refused to leave and insisted that they must "teach me a lesson". I wasn't sure what they wanted to do to me.

    The soldiers argued back and forth for a while, but eventually cleared the way for us to leave.

    'Watch what you say'

    As we pulled off, I began telling my cousin that I couldn't believe how aggressive and frightening the soldiers were. I continued venting until the driver, who had remained quiet with his eyes focusing ahead during the ordeal, turned around and told me that his brother is a member of that force and that I'd better "watch what I say". 

    The rest of the ride was silent.

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    This occurred because I took a video on my phone, from a moving vehicle, which was nowhere near the demonstrations. Nobody knew I was a journalist or where I was from. There have been several other accounts of similar confrontations with security forces.

    I was hesitant about writing about what happened, but I know that Sudanese citizens have faced far worse encounters than mine and are unable to disclose their experiences.

    With the scarcity of news coming out of Sudan, I felt it necessary to share my personal account.

    Forces have been targeting anyone documenting the protests. They have also restricted access to many social media sites.

    Anti-government protests

    Anger over rising prices, shortage of basic commodities and a massive cash crisis have fuelled demonstrations across Sudan. 

    At least 19 people have been killed and hundreds more wounded since protests erupted on December 19. Human rights group Amnesty International has put the death toll at 37.

    The demonstrations quickly transformed into growing anti-government rallies, demanding that President Bashir resign.

    Despite the adversities, the protests have remained consistent.

    Is it Sudan's version of the Arab Spring?

    Inside Story

    Is it Sudan's version of the Arab Spring?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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