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Sudan: Amnesty International Reps Detained

Sudan: Amnesty International representatives detained and human rights activists harassed

Amnesty International today expressed serious concern about the safety of human rights defenders in Sudan, following the detention of delegates --including an Amnesty International representative -- at a non-governmental organization (NGO) forum being held in Khartoum.

"This meeting was a transparent meeting -- previously known to the authorities -- of those working towards peace and justice in the region. Detaining and harrassing the human rights defenders is a clear violation of Sudan's obligations under international and regional standards, including the Constitutive Act of the AU. The government's actions have undermined the credibility and authority of the AU at a time when it is meeting in the Sudanese capital," said Kolawole Olaniyan, Director of Amnesty International's Africa Programme.

"Last night's events signal a worrying increase in the crackdown against human rights workers on the part of the Sudanese government, and we fear there is more to come. We call on the government of Sudan to stop all harassment of human rights activists in the country immediately."

The NGO Forum brought together national and international NGOs, two representatives of the UN, and representatives of the European Commission. The meeting was taking place in parallel to the AU meeting with the purpose of discussing issues regarding peace and justice in the region.

At 5:55 pm local time yesterday, security forces in plain clothes entered the building where the NGO Forum was being held. The security forces -- their number varying from six to 15 during the occurrence -- ordered all delegates to switch off their mobile phones. They said that the meeting was "unauthorized" and demanded the names of all participants. Participants, numbering approximately forty, were ordered to hand over all documents and laptops. Some resisted; the security forces forced upon their bags. Some small scuffles broke out. At this point more security forces entered and surrounded the room. Still and digital photographs, along with recorded video, were taken of all the participants. Some participants were pushed, threatened, and told "you better do what we say or you will face problems later". There were repeated demands to participants to hand over their belongings.

Security forces attempted to divide the participants into international and national groups. Attempts were also made to separate women from men. Many refused both requests.

Meanwhile, a crowd had formed outside, comprised mainly of journalists and diplomatic representatives. Security forces prevented them from entering the building.

Around 9.00 pm, security forces attempted to release those representing international groups but hold back the Sudanese nationals. International participants resisted, fearing for the safety of the Sudanese nationals left behind. Finally all were taken to the front gate, where again attempts were made to separate the two, until all participants were released.

Following the release of all participants, two participants were contacted by phone by the political section of national security and asked to meet with security officials. Faisal al Baqir, 49 years old, a freelance journalist, member of Reporters Sans Frontieres, and associated with SOAT (Sudanese Organization Against Torture), and Dr. Nagib Najmedin, 60 years old, who was one of the chairs of the meeting, and the director of the local NGOs the Amal Centre and the Khartoum Centre for Human Rights and Environmental Development were then taken from their residences to meet Saleh al Obeid, head of the Political Section of Sudanese National Security. They were told that although nothing was wrong with the meeting "the timing was bad", presumably meaning that given the sensitivities around the AU, this meeting could be inflammatory.

Background Faisal al Baqir was detained in the past, from 13-26 January 2001, by this same branch of national security. He was held incommunicado. His computer, motor bike, and other documents were confiscated. Repeatedly upon returning from travels abroad he is detained and questioned by immigration or picked up afterwards from his home by national security.

Dr. Nagib, was also detained from December 1989 to 1991 May. He was held in both Shobat and Kober prison in Khartoum.

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