April 4, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – Four men arrested in Central Darfur on 31 March after they were accused of being supporters of the ‘New Dawn’ charter remain in custody despite Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, on Monday ordering the release of all political prisoners, a UK-based charity group said.
The ‘New Dawn’ charter was signed by opposition groups in the Ugandan capital Kampala on 5 January and called for military action to topple the government.
According to a statement issued by the Sudan Social Development Organisation (SUDO UK), the four men were employees at the Garsila locality administration and have been in custody without access to their families or lawyers since being detained by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).
SUDO UK said it considered the four detainees prisoners of conscience and called for their immediate and unconditional release.
Bashir extended the general amnesty during a speech at the opening session of parliament, in which he also called for dialogue with opposition groups, including those that have taken up arms against his regime.
However, it remains unclear who will be covered by the president’s declaration and how authorities will determine who is to be released.
The ongoing detention of the Garsila group comes as seven political prisoners were released overnight on Monday following the president’s announcement, including six prominent members of opposition political parties that participated in signing the ‘New Dawn’ charter.
Those freed included leader of the Islamic Wasat Party Yousif al-Koda, Brigadier Abdel-Aziz Khalid from the National Sudanese Alliance, Hisham al-Mufti from the United Democratic Unionist Party, Intisar al-Aqli from the Socialist Unionist Nasserite Party, as well as Mohamed Zein al-Abdeen and Abdel-Rahim Abdullah from the Democratic Unionist Party.
Youth activist Hatim Ali Abdalla, who had been detained incommunicado since his arrest on 24 March after taking part in a peaceful demonstration at the Khartoum Bahri Teaching Hospital, was also among the group released.
Signatories to the ‘New Dawn’ charter included the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), the National Consensus Forces (NCF), civil society groups, as well as youth, women and student organisations. A number of major opposition groups who initially supported the charter, including the National Umma Party (NUP), Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) and Popular Congress Party (PCP), later backtracked on the deal.
The controversial charter included the decision to overthrow the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) using both peaceful and armed means and replacing it with a broad-based transitional government for a four-year term.
It also included a contentious clause aimed at preventing the exploitation of religion in politics.
In a widespread government crackdown following the signing, members of opposition parties were arrested and detained by the NISS in connection to their participation in the conference in Kampala, with some people arrested simply due to their political opinion or association, said SUDO UK.
“BARELY SCRATCHES THE SURFACE”
While both the European Union and the United States have expressed optimism at Bashir’s announcement, rights groups and opposition members have largely dismissed the move as a political stunt, saying it failed to address the fundamental issue of law reform, needed to end conditions allowing for arbitrary detention.
In a statement released earlier this week, Amnesty International said the prisoner amnesty “barely scratches the surface”.
It’s believed there are currently more than 600 prisoners in detention whose whereabouts remain unknown, including at least 240 from the Nuba Mountains, as well as an unspecified number from Darfur and other places, while more than 118 people are reportedly in arbitrary detention in relation to the conflict in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, including women and children.
It remains unclear whether the president’s decree would include rebel fighters and high-level officials currently on trial for plotting a coup to overthrow the government.