#SudanRevolts Returns

After a bit of a lull this fall, #SudanRevolts is active again today after four days of renewed protests. Over the summer, female students at the University of Khartoum initiated anti-government demonstrations, sparked by austerity measures, that aired a diversity of grievances related not just to the economy but to political freedom and human rights. The government crackdown was harsh, and many activists and citizen journalists were arrested and detained.

These latest protests were sparked by the deaths of four students from Darfur at the University of Gezira, southeast of Khartoum. The students were part of a sit-in demanding a tuition exemption they are entitled to under the 2010 Doha Document, signed between the government and a Darfuri rebel faction, according to the Sudan Tribune. Their bodies were found in a canal, and protestors are blaming Sudanese authorities for the deaths. Demonstrations erupted at the university and soon spread to Khartoum.

A Sudanese activist writing under the pseudonym Ahmed Ali visited Gezira University to investigate. France 24 quotes him:

When I arrived, hundreds of students were protesting outside the local hospital, to which the students’ bodies had been taken. They were demanding autopsies to establish the cause of death, but the authorities were telling them there was no specialised doctor on hand to perform one. There was so much security that I did not dare use my camera to film the protest. However, I managed to go into the hospital’s bathroom with some students who knew the deceased, and film interviews with them in the bathroom stalls…

It turns out that the bodies were found in a canal on the university grounds, which is used by agricultural students. The students told me that “rabata” – hired thugs working for the authorities – had beaten up protesters with iron bars. Many students had fled through this canal, which is only about a metre deep at its deepest point. Protesters ran off in every direction; only later did anyone realise these students were missing. The students I talked to found it difficult to believe that they could have drowned in such shallow water; it seems much more likely that the “rabata” took them off somewhere and tortured them to death, before dumping their bodies in the canal. [During this summer’s protests, intelligence services were also accused of taking protesters to “ghost houses” to torture them]. In any case, that’s what most students at Gezira University believe. [The authorities said there was no sign of violence on the bodies; the justice ministry said it will set up a committee to investigate the incident.]

On Sunday, students in Khartoum held their own ceremony on campus for the Gezira students. Ali reports that there were several thousand people present and when they tried to take the procession from campus into the city, they were blocked at every entrance by police: “Only one small door was open, through which about 500 people managed to get out… Later in the afternoon, we met at the main bus stop, where many civilians joined us; the police started hitting us really hard. Protesters set two city buses on fire. Dozens of people were arrested before the police managed to disperse everyone.”

Two human rights lawyers have been arrested by security services in connection to their support of the Gezira students, according to SUDO (UK).

Tuesday afternoon students from Darfur at Omdurman Islamic University, next door to Khartoum, organized protests and were attacked by students who support the government’s National Congress Party. Al Jazeera provides a nice social media round-up here.

The #SudanRevolts hashtag has come alive on Twitter again, and @SuperMojok was live tweeting from nearby the scene on Tuesday. He reported dorms being set on fire, high numbers of arrests, and students in the street with their suitcases and nowhere to go.

It is hard to speculate whether this will lead to enough momentum for something as big as the 1985 general strike, which was initially student-led and eventually resulted in the deposition of the government. But perhaps reinforcement of the solidarity between #SudanRevolts protestors in Darfur, Khartoum, and other parts of the country will boost morale and inspire some measure of political cohesion.

As Sudanese blogger and activist @MimzicalMimz put it, “Change will come when we stop saying ‘4 Darfurian students killed’ and start saying ‘4 Sudanese students killed’ instead.”