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Sudan’s Student Protests: Hope remains strong despite detention, torture, ongoing repression

7 years ago

Two weeks ago, I wrote here about the waves of protests in the streets of Khartoum and other Sudanese capitals.  President Omar al-Bashir’s announcement of austerity measures – from cuts in fuel subsidies to rises in the prices of staple items – prompted the protests, led by students who for months had been preparing for civil disobedience, preparing for the larger goal of overthrowing the dictator.  Security forces surged onto the streets, harassing, beating and arresting thousands of protesters.  Amongst the leadership arrested were many of those trained, over the last eight years, in non-violence and civil disobedience by Partera and my Swedish colleagues.

Sudan protestsMost of those arrested were released, some following farcical trials.  Since their release, many have left the country for at least temporary refuge; all are dealing with the daily effects of imprisonment and ill-treatment, from nightmares to ongoing pain and illnesses.  They are being monitored closely, their movements tracked, their families threatened.

One of those, whom I will call Fathiya, had spent eighteen months outside of the country after receiving a series of death threats in 2010.  She returned in the spring to join the burgeoning new movements, amongst them, Girifna.  She soon became involved as a trainer in non-violence, determined, like the others trained since 2005, to keep the youth movement peaceful.

As the anti-government demonstrations began to escalate, Fathiya was repeatedly harassed, detained and interrogated.  They questioned her about her movements, her contacts, demanding names and information. She refused to betray anyone.  At times, they threatened to kill her.  She responded:  ‘Even if you kill me, there will be many more coming up behind me!’

Sudan Pillars of Power workshop activityWhile in the women’s prison in Ombdurman, she began to talk to the other women about non-violence. They had heard about violence against women, violence against children – but they had never heard about non-violence.  So she taught them.  She taught them how to conduct themselves with their captors, with strength and dignity, non-violently.  Fathiya told then where she learned these things.  She recalled for them the first day of her training with 20 other participants and the trainer saying to them:  ‘We are all pregnant and someday this baby will be born – the new Sudan!’  We are all pregnant with that hope, she told her sister captives; perhaps the labour has begun!

I’m OK, she assures me by skype this evening.  She is suffering pain and dizziness from repeated beatings and broken bones; she can’t walk far without having to stop and rest.  She has lost a lot of weight, sleeps little, wakes screaming with nightmares.  Next time, she tells me (it being 3:00 a.m. in Khartoum), I will have my webcam working and you will be able to see how beautiful I am, skinny and scarred!  She laughs.  I am so proud of you, I say.

London Rally for Sudan with sign: we are all elbow lickersHer story is getting out there; she interviews this weekend with Human Rights Watch and others.  An Ottawa-based Senior Officer with the Sudan Task Force, currently at the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum, wants to talk with her, as well. Rudwan, a co-founder of Girifna, arrived in the U.S. today, there to tell the story, and to find refuge, respite, before return.  Protests in Sudan are echoing in Washington (where George Clooney was amongst those arrested), London (‘We are all Elbow-lickers!) and elsewhere.  Perhaps we will all figure out how to accompany the students of Sudan – without the invasion, bombardment and political machinations that have marked so much of recent Middle Eastern and North African régime change.  There has to be another way.

See upcoming article in Peace Magazine.

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