Khartoum, Sudan (openDemocracy) – On 19 April 2016, 18-year old Sudanese student Abubakr Hassan Mohamed Taha was shot dead on his university campus, because he wished to nominate himself for the student union and marched with his colleagues to submit a list of nominees for election.
The peaceful march was attacked by National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) agents, who fired live ammunition at random, killing Abubakr and injuring 27 other students according to Amnesty International. Abubakr’s death sparked nationwide student protests against the excessive use of force by the police and NISS and the shrinking space for civic and political freedoms in the universities.
Seven Sudanese public universities have witnessed waves of protests during the past week for different reasons, ranging from deteriorated services, ethnic discrimination and limitations on freedom of expression, to corruption and the oppressive political environment.
For instance, students at Al Fashir University took to the streets to protest the administrative referendum of Darfur on 11 April, the day of the polling. The referendum, which is based on the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, will decide whether Darfur should be governed as one autonomous region or adhere to the current five-state structure.
The process is highly controversial because of ongoing hostilities in the region, which have led to the displacement of over 129,000 people in the past three months. Over two million people have already been displaced from the region and cannot take part in the referendum. Several students were arrested; five of them are still in detention without charge and were being transferred to Khartoum.
Students at the University of Khartoum protested against conflicting news that government had decided to sell the university buildings and turn them into touristic attractions. Considering the Sudanese government’s record in dismantling public and historical properties, the news was alarming to students and graduates of the university, which was founded in 1902 – it is the oldest public university in Sudan.
On 13 April, public speeches against the sale of the university buildings turned violent after the police and NISS raided the campus, using rubber bullets and tear gas extensively. Many students were injured and admitted to hospital; over 60 students were detained without charge, of which 30 were released on the same day, and 27 on 16 April. Three students and two graduates remain in detention, and their families have not been allowed to visit them or get information on their whereabouts. There are concerns that they might be subjected to torture.
‘Killing a student is killing a nation’
This old slogan is used in student protests against outrageous and frequent killings; the first student felled in peaceful protests was Ahmed Al Qurashi, who was shot in the October 1964 uprising against General Aboud’s military dictatorship.
‘All we need is to let the world know that we exist and we resist.’
It is difficult to list all the martyrs of the student movements since the Islamic Front military coup that brought the Bashir regime into power. To name a few:Mohamed Abdel Salam died in 1998 under torture, after participating in protests demanding the distribution of mattresses to dormitory residents. Mutasim Hamid AbulGasim was beaten and stabbed to death in the University of Gezira in 2008, after participating in a public speech organised by the democratic front. Ali Abbakar was killed in March 2014, when pro-government militias attacked the University of Khartoum campus after a public speech on the humanitarian situation in Darfur.
Even though criminal cases were filed and investigation committees set up after these incidents, and though their murderers are well known to other students, they were never prosecuted for committing murder. On the contrary, they were promoted within the ruling party structures.
Besides the excessive use of force against peaceful protests on university campuses and arbitrary arrests and detentions, student activists are targeted with murders and assassinations. In December 2012, four student activists were found dead in a canal in the University of Gezira, after participating in protests and negotiations to exempt Darfuri students from tuition fees, a right granted to them by DDPD but never enforced.
In February 2016 Salah Gamar-Eldin was arrested by NISS from the University of El Geneina. A day later his body was thrown in front of his family house with clear signs of torture and ill treatment. He died a few hours later in hospital.
The crackdown on civil society and the shrinking space for civil and political freedoms in Sudan have made public universities the only available spaces to exercise the freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly. Universities sparked the popular uprisings in 1964 and 1985, which led to a change in the military dictatorships. As a result, the current ruling regime has been very cautious to control students’ movements through arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, and assassinations.
One of the students participating in the current solidarity movement with students of the University of Kordofan (who prefers to stay anonymous) said “we are longing for the popular uprising to happen, as the oppression and economic deterioration cannot get worse. All we need is to let the world know that we exist and we resist.”
This report prepared byfor openDemocracy.