Khartoum, Sudan – Security forces have stepped up a crackdown in recent days to deter protesters from taking part in a major march on Tuesday, activists and analysts say.
Demonstrators plan to demand full civilian rule one year after a military coup upended Sudan’s transition to democracy and tipped the country into an economic crisis.
Many activists are bracing for violence from the police force, which has come under significant criticism since the death of a young man, Mudasser Kamal, in custody on October 11.
Three days after his arrest, the police released a statement saying Kamal died in custody because of stomach pain, but Kamal’s family and human rights lawyers say his body bears signs of torture. Lawyers and activists are now calling for an independent investigation and a credible autopsy.
“The junta relies on this sort of violence to stay in power,” said Sammer Hamza, a 25-year-old member of the pro-democracy movement.
“This time, the crime was committed by the police, but armed groups and the army have done the same thing in the past,” Hamza said.
Since Kamal’s death, the ruling generals have cracked down on demonstrations and activists while fuelling conflicts across the country’s marginalised peripheries.
The violence has hardened the attitudes of members in the pro-democracy movement who promise to turn out in large numbers on Tuesday.
Raids and arrests
Authorities have targetted activists and artists affiliated with the pro-democracy street movement. The latest incident occurred on Thursday when government forces stormed an art and tech space called Civil-Lab in Khartoum, the capital. The officers trashed an art exhibition, confiscated paintings and arrested nine people.
While those detained were released on bail that evening, they were charged with advocating for violence against the authorities, disturbing public peace and compromising public safety. The theme of the art exhibit was to draw attention to the threat that the coup authorities pose to protesters.
“The reason they arrested us is because they want to scare young people, but people aren’t scared of them,” said Alma al-Deen, a 26-year-old financial coordinator at Civic-Lab who was swept up in the raid.
The incident occurred as US-led talks were reportedly taking place between a broad coalition of political parties known as the Forces for Freedom and Change and the military rulers. In the eyes of Duaa Tarig, the art curator at Civic-Lab and an active member in the pro-democracy movement, the coup authorities were clearly frightened by art that challenged the legitimacy of high-level negotiations.
Tarig said the most important installation at the exhibition was called “The Negotiation Room”, which reflects the opinion that most protesters have towards talks that aim to restore a military-civilian partnership rather than pursue full-civilian rule, justice and accountability – core demands of the pro democracy movement.
“[In the room], we had a portrait of a dictator in a military uniform covered in blood, and on his badge it read ‘murderer’,” Tarig told Al Jazeera. “The [authorities] confiscated the portrait, but the idea was that when you stood in front of the portrait, then all you would be able to see is blood smeared on [the walls] around him.”
Armed groups aligned with the military are also fuelling violence in the country’s neglected peripheries.
In Blue Nile state, at least 220 people have been killed and thousands displaced in what UN agencies and diplomats describe as “intercommunal violence” – a term that critics say obscures the political drivers of the conflict.
Kholood Khair, founder of the think-tank Confluence Advisory, said violence in the region has been exacerbated by armed groups who signed the Juba Peace Agreement in October 2020, which was supposed to bring an end to conflicts in rural areas.
Signatories to that agreement supported the military coup one year later.
“At its heart, there is a direct militarisation of the peripheries due to the Juba Peace Agreement,” Khair said, commenting on the crisis in Blue Nile and other regions where violence has flared up in past months.
Back in Khartoum, scores of people were injured during protests on Friday, according to Sudan’s Doctors Committee. Two days later, security forces shot and killed a young man, bringing the death toll from anti-coup protests to 118 since the military consolidated power last year.
Khair said she suspects the coup leaders, especially military commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, are resorting to repression to gain leverage in ongoing negotiations.
“I think Burhan is trying to strengthen his position of power,” she told Al Jazeera. “While he’s offering all this rosy rhetoric about making concessions [to the pro-democracy movement], he’s also showing that he has cards that he can play by attacking protesters or letting the situation get worse in [Blue Nile].”
Despite the risks, protesters are preparing to march towards the Presidential Palace on the anniversary of the coup to make themselves heard.
“All of the people who were arrested with me have protested on the streets in the past,” al-Deen from Civic-Lab said. “We will all be there again on October 25.”