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Central Darfur: A human rights defender arrested, tortured and charged with defamation over a social media post in Zalingi city

African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) expresses deep concern over the continued targeting of Sudanese citizens by authorities for their online activities. ACJPS has documented another incident where a human rights defender was arrested, tortured, and later charged with defamation under article 159 of the Sudanese Penal code.

On 7 August 2022, at 09:40am, a group of police detectives from Zalingi city in West Darfur State arrested Mr. Saif Eldlien Adam Ahmed, aged 22 from the main street next to popular square located in front of Zalingi University. Mr. Saif Eldlien Adam was taken to Zalingi Police Station where he was neither interrogated nor charged. However, while on transit to the police station, he was beaten using the butt of the automatic guns and stamped on with military shoes. From Zalingi Police Station, he was moved to Custom Police office and later taken to the new local government building which is still under construction, located approximately two kilometers from town center.

The officers continued to torture him by beating him with pistol butt and forced him to stand under the sun for two hours during which he was being verbally insulted with words like “you are slave. Since we are in power, we will raise you”. He was later taken back to office of the police detectives and released on bond at 05:00 Pm on the same day. He was informed by the police that he was charged with defamation under article 159 of Sudanese Penal code as a consequence of his post on social media about the four Christians who were arrested and charged with apostasy in Zalingi after the police raided their church located in Stadium neighborhood of Zalingi. After two weeks, Mr. Saif Eldien reported to the police station, and he was informed that there is no case filed against him.

On 28 August 2022, Mr. Saif Eldien went to the police station in Zalingi and requested a medical form to be able to recieve treatment at the hospital for the injuries he sustained from the torture he was subjected to. He was given the form after the authorization/approval of the prosecutor. On the same day, he was again arrested by the same detectives and taken to the police station where he found out that there was a defamation charge against him. He was detained for several hours before being released on bail. Before his release, Mr. Saif was threatened over his popularity on Facebook and the police detectives directly told him that “it will cost him”.

This is not the first time that Mr. Saif was arrested by security operatives. On 1 April 2019, at 12:00am, Mr. Saif was arrested by national security agents from the main street in Zalingi Market during a peaceful protest alongside the Sudan revolutionary movement. He was released on 11 April 2019 after the overthrow of Al-Bashir regime. During his arrest, he was beaten with horse pipe and tortured while in detention. In December 2018, he was arrested by police forces during a peaceful protest in Zalingi. He was taken to the police headquarters in Zalingi where he was beaten with horse pipe. He was warned that for him to stay in Zalingi town, he must stay away from leading protests or “be ready to die”. He spent 6 hours in detention and was later released without charges. In 2015, Mr. Saif Eldien was arrested by NISS from Zalingi court while he was attending the court trial of 19 Zalingi University students who were arrested because of their political affiliations with opposition parties and participating in protests against the dictatorship. They were charged with the crime of making public noise. Mr. Saif was released later that day after he was forced to sign a commitment/agreement stating that he would never enter the university or court premises again.

Over the years, social media platforms have been used increasingly by Sudanese citizens to voice concerns over the governance of their country, among others. Given the restrictive space, the online platforms are used as a medium to freely express concerns and commentary on different issues affecting the ordinary citizen. Various media houses in Sudan have also launched online news sites that have made it possible to publish articles on topics that might have otherwise been deemed red line topics and exposed them to pre-print or post print censorship and other restrictive tactics used by the authorities. However, the Government has extended its repressive tactics and carried out arrests and interrogation of individuals for their online activity and relied on crimes under the Cybercrimes Act and the Penal Code to charge individuals for their social media activity.

ACJPS urges the Sudanese authorities to respect and guarantee the right to freedom of expression as provided for in article 56 of the Constitutional Declaration of 2019 and international and regional human rights treaties that Sudan is a state party to. ACJPS further urges the Government to ensure that this freedom is protected both online and off-line in accordance with the constitution and universally accepted standards. The Government should further instruct its law enforcement agencies to cease harassment and intimidation of individuals exercising their rights legitimately. ACJPS also proposes a law reform within the country to adhere to regional and international standards to which Sudan has committed, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

ACJPS further calls upon the Sudanese authorities to carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the allegation of torture of Mr. Saif Eldlien Adam Ahmed with the objective of holding perpetrators to account and guarantee his access to free medical care.