Students Give Accounts of Police Raids at Khartoum University
By Shadi Bushra, published January, 2012
Khartoum University remains closed almost one month after anti-regime protests triggered a police crackdown that left dozens injured, with two students still detained after nearly four weeks in custody.
In protest of last month’s crackdown and a subsequent university resolution authorizing police to enter the campus, the students have called for the university to remain closed until the university’s director Sidiq Haiati resigns due to his “administrative collusion” which allowed police forces to raid the campus. The students’ demands also include an apology from the ministry of the interior and the police, and compensation for those students affected.
Two students, Mohammed Idris “Gedu” Mohammed and Taj al Sirr Jafar remain in custody without charge. Over 70 were arrested, and dozens were injured in the raid.
The demonstrations began on Thursday, December 22nd when students of the Manasir ethnic group, supported by the Darfuri student association and pro-democracy campus groups, organized to protest the building of the Merowe Dam north of Khartoum. The central government promised to pay the Manasir to resettle out of the dam area, but many claim they have received no such compensation.
The protesting students, estimated at about 700, marched through nearby streets throughout the evening. After they had retired to their dormitories, they were awoken after midnight when police fired teargas into the dorm. Some students retaliated by throwing rocks, at which point the police entered the buildings.
The police proceeded to empty out the dorms floor by floor and building by building, corralling the students into the courtyard before sending them off to police stations to be processed, photographed, and then either released or held for questioning.
This more or less standard operating procedure was supplemented by threats, beatings, theft, and, once detained, torture. All of the students interviewed gave accounts of police officers walking out of dorm rooms with laptops and cell phones.
A third-year economics student gave her account of the initial raid. “I was awake but my roommate was sleeping when they broke the door to our room. Almost immediately they began smashing my desk with their batons and demanding I give them any cell phones and cameras – they had already taken my laptop off of my desk.”
Another student elaborated on the thinking behind the thefts. “They told us that they were taking our electronics to make sure we didn’t have anything undesirable on them. Of course, what they most wanted was to see who had been involved in planning the protests so they knew who should be punished most harshly.”
Police sources confirmed that they are interested in locating the epicenter of the protests. “We are battling three armed movements [in South Korofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur], so if any student is found to have connections to these rebels, they need to be jailed. These students should be supporting their government under these circumstances instead of wasting time with protests,” said one officer on condition of anonymity.
Publicly, the chief of police in Khartoum State said in the week after the protest that police forces are ready to enter the university again.
Others dismiss the notion that there was any premeditated reasoning behind the confiscations. “I heard two officers arguing over who would take the best mobile [phone]. When the government is run by thieves, why should its security forces not steal?” asked a student who had his laptop and two phones taken.
In addition to the broadly acknowledged confiscation of students’ personal effects, many students complained of police brutality during the raid. Seventeen students were taken to hospitals with broken arms, legs, and cracked skulls.
Many students refused to go quietly, however. Mohammed, a first year student, recalls asking an officer, “How much is your salary, and how much does the government steal,” suggesting that he is doing the work while his bosses reap the rewards.
The officer, according to Mohammed, replied, “I don’t need a salary, I’d do it for fee,” before smashing his baton into the student’s hand.
Khalid, a student from El Fasher in North Darfur also pointed to the “racist line of thinking” of the officers. One of the key questions asked of all the detained students was what tribe they came from. “When they found someone not from the Manasir, they would beat him double,” said Khalid.
This may in fact be more indicative of government fears of inter-ethnic political cooperation than racism on the part of the officers. The central government has for decades used preferential treatment of certain groups to increase animosity and keep opposition to their rule fractured and disorganized.
After this protest and raid on December 22nd, students refused to take exams the following Sunday, instead organizing a 5,000-person strong march in protest of the university’s decision to allow police onto the campus.
The university responded by closing the dormitories and evicting all of the students. Those that do not live in Khartoum were forced to sleep with friends’ families or rent rooms until they could get transportation to Darfur, Kordofan, Kassala, or other faraway provinces.
The students are insisting their list of complaints be addressed before reopening the school, but administration officials have so far given no indication that they are willing to respond positively to any of the demands.
Some have suggested that the regime, through the school administration, wants to send the message that earning a degree and participating in demonstrations are mutually exclusive. According to a student not linked to the protests, “If they reopen in three months, the political problems will still be there. But those who started [the protests] will have learned that it will cost them three months of their education and housing, so they won’t do it again.”
Mustafa, a 29 year-old intimately involved with activist organizations believes that the cause of the Manasir can breathe life into attempts at shoring up public support for anti-regime demonstrations on the scale of Sudan’s neighbors.
“There are plenty of good causes that I believe in. But when the government can say, they are terrorists, they are guerrilla fighters, it takes away the moral high ground. Like the Darfuris before them, now the Nuba people are being bombed by government planes, but at the same time their militias are shooting at Arabs. Not many Arab Sudanese will support their cause under those circumstances. But the Manasir have universally committed themselves to only peaceful means. That is what Sudanese people want, and that is what Sudan needs.”
See Shadi’s report on the first Arab Spring-inspired protests in Sudan in early 2011 at “Democracy’s Domino Effect: Protests in Sudan”
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