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Cablegate: Almost Five Months Later, Opposition Leader Released From

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHKH #1911 3381355
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 041355Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9430

UNCLAS KHARTOUM 001911

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/SPG

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM SU
SUBJECT: ALMOST FIVE MONTHS LATER, OPPOSITION LEADER RELEASED FROM
PRISON

REFTELS: KHARTOUM 01109; KHARTOUM 01149


1. (SBU) After more than four months in Khartoum's Khober Prison,
accused of plotting a coup against the government but never formally
charged, Umma Party Reform and Renewal leader Mubarak al-Fadil
al-Mahdi has been released. On December 2, family members told
poloff that his release seemed imminent, and that they and other
supporters would congregate at the prison that evening to welcome
him. More than one thousand people, including government figures and
journalists, gathered at the scene. At around nine in the evening,
al-Fadil walked out of the prison and left for his residence.

2. (SBU) Twenty-eight others arrested with al-Fadil remain in
detention, including Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy Ali
Hassanein.

3. (SBU) On December 3, poloff met with family members to discuss
al-Fadil's release. Elated and tired, they confirmed that all
charges against al-Fadil had been dropped due to lack of evidence.
Minister of Justice Mohamed al-Mardi had signed the release papers
himself (though in typically byzantine Sudanese fashion, he had not
bothered to actually send the papers to the prison; one of
al-Fadil's nephews was dispatched to al-Mardi's residence, woke him
from a nap, and personally collected the papers).

4. (SBU) Al-Fadil's release comes at a critical time for the
Sudanese government and President al-Bashir personally; the regime
has taken a beating in the international arena over its handling of
the "teddy bear scandal," alleged UNAMID deployment backpedaling and
the latest NCP-SPLM rift. According to the family, Egypt's President
Mubarak advised Bashir to release al-Fadil (and the others jailed
with him) during their most recent meeting in Cairo, as did Libyan
president Qaddafi. Why create yet another crisis, they reportedly
told Bashir.

5. (SBU) The SPLM had also been pressuring the government to release
the prisoners; while this pressure was helpful, it also delayed
al-Fadil's release, according to the family. When the SPLM walked
out of the GNU some five weeks ago, the NCP used the prisoners'
detention as a punitive tool, they said, and refused to release
them. Now, with the NCP and SPLM edging towards a possible improved
working relationship, it seems that the release of al-Fadil is part
of an NCP carrot-versus-stick strategy. Family members also said the
government thought al-Fadil would have been meddlesome had he been
released during the height of the NCP-SPLM rift.

6. (SBU) Family members surmised that al-Fadil was arrested as a
distraction over the government's acceptance of UNSCR 1769, as well
as "punishment" for being too allied with the U.S. (Note: Nafie Ali
Nafie also accused the U.S. of being behind the alleged coup
attempt; see reftels. End note). As previously reported, the arrests
of such high-level opposition figures was also seen as an attempt to
thwart their efforts at party unification before the 2009 elections.


7. (SBU) One family member said that presidential advisor Mustafa
Osman Ismail told him that the whole affair was "embarrassing," and
that he and other regime officials were constantly being confronted
on the issue. Media and social pressure on the government had also
become increasingly persistent, with the Arab Organization for Human
Rights condemning the continued detention in September.

8. (SBU) Comment: While al-Fadil's release is welcome news, the
international community must continue to press for the release of
Ali Hassanein and the other 27 individuals who remain imprisoned.
With the charges against al-Fadil completely dropped, it now seems
possible that the others could be quietly released, perhaps in small
groups, in the coming weeks and months. Though al-Fadil's release
may have been a conciliatory gesture towards the SPLM on the part of
the NCP other SPLM political figures recently arrested remain in
custody. (Note: Though al-Fadil is from a splinter Umma group, the
SPLM had pushed for his release along with their own members in
custody.)

FERNANDEZ

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