On Sunday, May 22, eight human rights activists from two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were arrested by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in a fresh crackdown by the regime on civil society actors.
The NGOs – the Centre for Training and Human Development (Tracks) and Al-Zarqa Rural Development Organisation – have been targeted in the past for their work in promoting human rights. The activists have been accused of receiving foreign funding and having ties to opposition groups bent on overthrowing the government.
The offices of Tracks were raided by the NISS in February this year, and prior to last year’s elections one of its trainers, Adil Bakheit, was charged with crimes against the state – the charge, which carries the death penalty, was later dismissed by the courts. The executive director of Al-Zarqa Rural Development Organisation, Mustafa Adam Ahmed Hussain, has also been detained by the authorities on several occasions.
In addition to its harassment of activists, the government has been called out for its repression and extrajudicial detention of students by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW highlighted the escalation in the regime’s crackdown on activists in an article published on May 24. In it the rights group documented cases of detention without charge in undisclosed locations of students involved in recent protests. HRW also noted the regime’s continued suppression of the media.
That the National Congress Party (NCP) regime under the rule of Omar Al-Bashir is repressive is hardly news. However, several sources are commenting that the new wave is an escalation in the use of such heavy-handed tactics.
There have been a number of student protests this year, and the regime will be wary of things getting out of hand. But, it is not just local organisations and students being targeted by the government. On May 22, the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Ivo Freijsen, was denied a renewal of his visa and has thus been de facto expelled from the country. Three other international NGO representatives have also been expelled in recent months, according to international media.
The regime’s hardening stance against civil society could give fresh impetus to calls earlier in the year for the US to ratchet up sanctions against the government.
The Enough Project, based in Washington DC, asked President Barack Obama to put in place targeted financial and technical sanctions on government officials and their business networks in April. The government’s recent actions have only strengthened the argument for such measures.
*Jared Jeffery, Political Analyst, NKC African Economics