Sudan: Blogger Remains in Detention for Criticizing Presidents

Sudanese blogger and activist Tajeldin Arja has been in detention since his arrest on December 24, 2013 at a joint press conference of the Sudanese and Chadian Presidents in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. Arja, a political activist from North Darfur, interrupted the speaker at the opening session and criticized the two leaders, in what Amnesty International described as an effort to “[hold] them responsible for the atrocities committed in Darfur.”

He was then arrested by security guards, as the video below clearly shows. Local and international human rights organization stated that the 26-year-old blogger is at serious risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Activists in Sudan have called for a solidarity sit-in before the governmental human rights commission to demand his immediate release. The sit-in will take place on Tuesday, February 18.

Chadian president Idris Deby was on an official two-day visit to Khartoum to discuss peace, security and border issues in the Darfur region with Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir. On the day before his arrest, Arja, who hails from North Darfur, announced on his Facebook account his intention to attend the presidential press conference and confront the audience whom he described as “opportunist leaders.” He called on other activists to do the same and express their “impressions” about the event and its attendees.

Arja's arrest was widely reported on after video footage of the incident — apparently taken by an anonymous attendee from a mobile phone — was uploaded on YouTube. The video shows Arja standing in the front row and shouting criticism at the two presidents. “You want to fool and deceive public opinion!”, he was heard saying to Al-Bashir and Diby. Security guards immediately seized him and can be seen escorting him outside the conference hall. “You can kill us, torture us…” were his last spoken words on the short video. News sources have reported that members of the security service at the conference confiscated the equipment of international journalists and TV channel crewmen at the event and conducted on-site search of their content in anticipation that the arrest might have been caught on camera.

Amnesty International has issued an urgent action appeal calling on Sudanese authorities to charge Arja with a recognizable criminal offense or to release him without delay, warning that he remains under serious risk of torture and other forms of mistreatment. The organization emphasized that Arja was one of the victims of their ill-fated policies surrounding the conflict in Darfur:

Tajeldin Ahmed Arja is from North Darfur. He was displaced with his family during the early years of the Darfur conflict. Since then, he has reportedly become critical of the Sudanese government and has written and blogged about the situation in Darfur.

Independent online newspaper Al-Taghyeer [ar] reported that a close relative of Arja, who was able to visit him in prison, said that the blogger was held in solitary confinement and was subjected to systematic and continuous beating and torture:

وقال المصدر للـ (التغيير الالكترونية) إن علامات الاعياء والتعذيب ظهرت بوضوح علي المعتقل الذي قال انه ظل يتعرض منذ اعتقاله “لعمليات تعذيب متواصلة توقفت قبل الزيارة بيومين”. وقال عرجة، انه وضع طوال مدة اعتقاله في “حبس إنفرادي وتم تحويله قبل ايام لسجن كوبر في معتقل جماعي”.

وابلغت السلطات اسرة عرجه انها لن تتمكن من مقابلته إلا بعد مرور خمسة عشر يوما علي مدة الزيارة الاولي.

The source has told Al-Taghyeer Online that signs of fatigue and exhaustion were visible on [Tajeldهn] Arja, who said that he has been subjected to “continuous torture since his arrest that only stopped two days before the visit”. Arja said that he was put under solitary confinement during all his detention, and was only transferred days ago to Kober Prison.

A Blow to Government Rhetoric

Blogger and activist leader Amjed Farid wrote a blog post putting Arja's arrest in the context of that state of freedom of expression in Sudan and the upcoming 2015 presidential elections:

It is not only the case of Tajeldin Arja although it is enough to make the point. Sudan government keeps a very harsh censorship on daily newspapers with three of them (Almidan, Rai Alsha’ab and Altayar) prohibited from printing for almost three years now without any official reasons (the first two are official publications of legally registered parties). Moreover, during September and October last year, the regime detained hundreds of politicians and activists from their homes and the reason was their political views and stands. The detention was the easy part of that, others hundreds were killed in the streets in cold blood for demonstrating against price raise and economic measures in September 2013.

The youth movement Sudan Change Now has called on its Facebook page [ar] for the activism community in Sudan to hold a peaceful sit-in on February 18, 2014, in front of the government-run Human Rights Commission (HRC) to demand the immediate release of Arja.

Observers have argued that Al-Bashir's failure to issue an executive order to release all political detainees renders the government's new language of open dialogue, reform and reconciliation “empty rhetoric”, as Tajeldin Arja and many other activists languish in prisons while the perpetrators of crimes and human rights violations enjoy impunity.

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