Death toll given by senior investigator appointed by public prosecutor is higher than previous official figures.
“My cousin wasn’t a trouble-maker, he used to stay mostly in the neighbourhood. He used to watch TV every evening and sometimes re-enact what he saw in a way that made us laugh at home.”
That’s how Zakia Khalil described her 18-year-old cousin Abadi Osman, an ice-seller in Sharq El-neel, in the eastern suburbs of Khartoum, where he lived with paternal relatives and was raised by his grandfather.
He went missing on June 3 after a military attack on a pro-democracy sit-in in front of the military headquarters in Sudan’s capital.
“He was like any other person in the country affected by the economy and the way the country was being governed,” Khalil told Al Jazeera.
“He came out because he believed in the revolution.”
For months, hundreds of thousands of Sudanese, including Osman, demonstrated against the country’s long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir. When the demonstrations turned into a mass protest camp outside the military headquarters in early April, Osman joined in as well, coming home only a handful of times during the two months the sit-in lasted.
On April 11, the military seized power after removing and arresting al-Bashir. A newly formed Transitional Military Council (TMC) began negotiating with an opposition coalition known as the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), which represented the protest movement. But the talks between the ruling generals and the protest leaders broke down several times as the sit-in continued.
On June 3, the military raided the sit-in resulting in the deaths of more than 100 demonstrators, according to the protest-aligned Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD).
More than 700 people were reported wounded from the attack and subsequent days of violence. Survivors also recounted the army, mostly made up of soldiers from the notorious Rapid Support Forces, led by the deputy head of the TMC, threw bodies into the Nile River near the sit-in.
Khalil said she and her family looked everywhere for her cousin – in hospitals, mortuaries and police stations – but could not find his name among those wounded, arrested or recorded as dead.
Osman was listed among the dozens missing.
On Saturday, the committee set up by the ruling generals announced that investigations into the attack were ongoing but revealed only a handful of officers were responsible for the killings.
“One of the [generals] was warned that he is not responsible for the operation yet he disobeyed orders and led the Rapid Support Forces into the sit-in area and handed down orders for them to get out of their armoured vehicles and force the protesters out,” Fath al-Rahman Saeed, the head of the committee, told journalists in a press conference in Khartoum.
He said the order was given to disperse an area known as Columbia, adjacent to the sit-in, where alcohol and drugs – both illegal in Sudan – were known to be sold.
“Some outlaws exploited this gathering [the sit-in] and formed another gathering in what is known as the Columbia area, where negative and illegal practices took place,” Saeed said.
He added 87 people were killed and 168 wounded and no rapes took place, despite a CCSD report saying there were at least 50 cases of rape. There was no mention of the whereabouts of those missing in the brief press conference.
“It’s not only on the day of the attack, some people disappeared after,” Musab Alsharief, a member of a neighbourhood resistance committee mobilising protesters nationwide, told Al Jazeera.
‘Lost their minds’
Pages and accounts on social media were set up for families to post names and photos of their missing loved ones, in hopes that someone would recognise them and tell the families where they were.
One such page lists 17 people still missing since the June 3 raid. But activists say not all families have access to social media, and not all of those killed had families – so the number of those missing is likely higher.
“We’ve found some of those who went missing, but most of them weren’t in a stable state of mind,” Alsharief said. “Some of them have lost their memory, some of them have lost their minds completely.”
He added they had signs of beatings and torture.
“I just want Abadi to come back,” Khalil said.
“His grandfather who raised him wants to know where he is, even if he’s dead. He keeps asking about Abadi every time he gets a call … He just wants to know where he is.”