الجمعة، 22 أبريل، 2016

Sudanese Public Universities at the Heart of Peaceful Revolutions


On 19 of April 2016, Abubakr Hassan Mohamed Taha, 18 year old student was shot dead in the university campus because he wished to nominate himself for the students union. He marched alongside his colleagues to submit a list of nominees to compete for the students union. The peaceful march was attacked by NISS agents who fired life ammunitions randomly, killed Abubakr, injured 27 students and arrested tenths of them according to Amnesty International. The death of Abubakr sparked nationwide students' protests against the excessive use of force by the police and NISS and the shrinking spaces of civic and political freedoms in the universities.

Nine Sudanese public universities have witnessed waves of protests during the past week for different causes ranging from the deteriorated services, ethnic discrimination and limitations imposed on freedom of expression to protesting corruption and the oppressive political environment. For instance, students at the University of Alfashir took the streets to protest the administrative referendum of Darfur on 11 April 2016, the day of the polling. The referendum which is based on the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), should decide on whether Darfur should be governed as one autonomous region or adhere to the current five states structure. The process is highly controversial because of the ongoing hostilities in the region which lead to displacement of over 129000 persons in the past three months. Needless to say that over two million persons have already been displaced from the region since 2003 and cannot vote in this referendum. Tenth of students were arrested; five of them are still in detention without charges and were being transferred to Khartoum.
Students at the University of Khartoum protested against the conflicting news that government decided to sell the university buildings or turn it into touristic attractions. Noting that it is the oldest university in Sudan which was founded in 1902, and because of the government records in dismantling historical places, those news was alarming to university students and alumni. On 13 April, the public speeches against selling of the university buildings turned violently after the police and NISS raided the campus and used rubber bullets and tear gas extensively. Many students were injured and admitted to hospital; over 60 students were detained without charges of which thirty were released in the same day, and 27 got released on 16 April. Three students and two graduates are still in detention, their families were not allowed to visit them neither got any information about their whereabouts. There are concerns that they might be subjected to torture.

Killing of a student is a killing of a nation:
This old slogan is mostly used in the students' protests against the outrageous yet frequent incidents of killings. The first student to fell down in peaceful protests was Ahmed Alqurashi, who was shot in October 1964 uprising against General Aboud military dictatorship. However, it became difficult to list and name all the martyrs of the students' movements since the military coup of the Islamic Front that brought Bashir regime into power in 1989. To name a few there was Mohammed Abdel Salam who died in 1998 under torture, after participating in protests demanding the distribution of mattresses to residents of dormitories'. There was Motasim Hamid (Abu Alas) who was beaten up and stabbed to death in the University of Algazira in 2008 after participating in a public speech organized by the Democratic Front. There was Ali Abbakar who got killed in March 2014, when pro-government militias attacked the University of Khartoum campus after public speech on the humanitarian situation in Darfur. Even though investigation committees and criminal cases were filed in those incidents, their murderers are well known to other students yet they were never prosecuted for committing murder, to the contrary they got promoted within the ruling party structures.
Besides the excessive use of force against peaceful protestors in university campuses and the arbitrary arrests and detentions, students' activists are targeted with murders and assassinations. In Dec 2012, four student activists were found dead in a water stream in the University of Algazira after participating in protests and negotiations to exempt Darfuri students from tuition fees, a right granted to them by DDPD but never came into force. In February 2016 Salah Gamar was arrested by NISS from the University of Alginenia. A day later his body was thrown in front of his family house with clear signs of torture and ill treatment, he died after few hours in the hospital.

Students are the drivers of change:
Crackdown on civil society and the shrinking space for civil and political freedoms in Sudan has made public universities the only available spaces to exercise the freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. Historically, the universities have sparked popular uprising in 1964 and 1985 that toppled down military dictatorships in Sudan. Therefore the current ruling regime has been very cautious about controlling students' movements through arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, killings and assassinations. One of the students who is participating in the current solidarity protests with students of University of Kordofan (and prefers to stay anonymous) said "we are longing to the popular uprising to happen, as the oppression and economic deterioration cannot get worse, revolution is the our way out of this desparate situation. We need to let the world know that we do exist and we resist."

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