Friday, December 17, 2010
Between October 30th and November 3rd 13 human rights activists and journalists were arrested in what can be described as only one of the many ways that the Sudanese government is attempting to stifle any discontent in Darfur before the Referendum on January 9th.

Among the people arrested by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) was Abdelrahman Adam Abdelrahman, a member of Radio Dabanga. He was giving a training at a Youth Forum concerning social development and peace in Darfur when he was arrested for allegedly conspiring with the International Criminal Court (ICC). Later on the NISS went on to arrest Jaafar Subki Ibrahim, because of his alleged crimes against the state by reporting about the violence in Darfur.

“These arrests are obviously designed to intimidate and silence journalists,” Hildebrand Bijleveld, editor in chief of Radio Dabanga said. “Radio Dabanga is the only station to talk about the ‘Darfur final conclusion’ - governments method for ending conflict in Darfur - and about the region in general. As the referendum on South Sudan’s independence approaches, the authorities want to silence media outlets that question the official line. The authorities cite ‘national security’ as the grounds for the arrests and confiscation of material. They say they have the right to arrest these people because the stations does not have a license. But the assumption that Radio Dabanga is working against the government is incorrect. The radiostation is not broadcasting from Sudan, but is licensed in the Netherlands. The arrested human rights activists were absolutely not acting against any laws in Sudan", states Bijleveld.

Abdelrahman was also arrested with a number of activists who were attending the forum and is held in prison without formal charge and without allowing any friend or family to contact him.

"These arrests indicate an emerging pattern of harassment and intimidation by the government of Sudan against civil society in advance of the scheduled January 9 referenda," US representative to the UN Susan Rice stated. The prosecutions are threatening the ability of the media to operate adequately during the referendum according to Ambroise Pierre from Reporters Without Borders

About 400 lawyers and political leaders have called for the release of the detainees or at least the filing of charges so that a fair trial can be commenced on three separate occasions, however their requests have not been answered as of yet. The defence has still not been allowed to see their clients to check how they are fairing or to even know where specifically they are being held.

As the elections grow even nearer, it can be expected that the crackdown will become more intense as the NISS attempts to prevent any opposition from coalescing and prevent the Sudanese government from facing conflict in Southern Sudan at the same time as it faces conflict in Darfur.