A soul crushing movement of domination
At the start of 2011, a close friend of mine Magdy El-Baghdady, a British citizen was detained in the Political Remand section of Kober prison, Khartoum, Sudan.
At the time, Magdy was renting a flat in Khartoum with his friend Omar Habbani. On February 14th the house was raided by armed men who entered and questioned them about being spies who were aiming to start a revolution in Sudan. Both men were taken without formal arrest and had their passports taken away from them by men who had no names on their documents at the time but we now know them to have been the NISS, who are infamous in Sudan as Government forces who ensure that citizens maintain a loyalty to the State.
They were both taken to Kober prison where they were held in the political remand cell without any charges. During this time in Kober prison both Magdy and Omar were subject to verbal humiliation, psychological and physical torture. They were not allowed to phone anyone and so for the months they were detained, I and Magdy’s relatives and fiancée were unaware of his whereabouts. In this time they were moved from Kober prison, handcuffed, blindfolded and driven for hours throughout the country as a decision on where to take them was being made.
They were taken to various police stations and prisons over the space of a few months. At each new location they were interrogated by different investigation teams and subjected to further torture and abuse. At one point they were placed in a cell filled with around 15 men and no toilets or food nor any way for the men to sleep properly as they were so tightly squeezed into this small space. They were not given food or water in this time and Magdy developed severe kidney pain. It was obvious what was happening – no one wanted to take responsibility for these two men. Thus, they were taken back into political remand.
By mid May, they were taken to Omdurman prison where Magdy was robbed by men who held knives to him as they took his clothes and shoes. It was during this time that fellow inmates, who having taken sympathy on Magdy, brought him a mobile phone where he was finally able to inform his family of what had happened to him.
After approximately 65 days of being passed from prison to prison without trial, nor any understanding of what exactly they were being held for and without access to a lawyer, embassy or even a phone call, Magdy and Omar were released. What followed was a Kafkaesque trial that lasted months and further investigation by the Sudanese officials meant that Magdy was not allowed to have his passport returned to him as he awaited the results of a court hearing. Magdy is the first British citizen to ever be detained in Sudan. He is the first British citizen to be held in political remand and tortured.
I have no doubt that there are countless stories of this kind, of which the experience and outcomes for those involved have varied, however the similarities in the organizational structure of violence and control exhibited by the Sudanese government is uncanny. The government has routinely used detention without charge or trial and the infliction of torture to silence those who could threaten the political regime. Often times those who are detained are not told why and are forbidden access to family or lawyers whilst being subject to interrogation. When Magdy was detained the same routine was used. He was not allowed access to the outside world and was routinely interrogated with the aim of him confessing to any number of crimes, actual or imaginary.
To behave in opposition to the government is treated as the highest form of criminality in Sudan, where protection of the current hierarchal structure is of utmost concern to the officials. For these types of criminals there are, instead, unofficial prisons and ghost houses which were created for those who appeared to causetrouble. In these places, countless cases of torture have been reported by international charity organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Redress and so on and included such techniques as immersing the head in cold water, burning with cigarette ends, electric shocks, beating with pipes, mock execution, pulling out of finger nails and rape. With rising concerns of the atrocities taking place throughout Sudan, Bashir’s government even imposed curbs on foreign visitors and relief workers and has harassed and detained journalists.
Despite being confronted with human rights abuses by international organizations, such as Waging Peace, Bashir’s government and specifically the NISS, have compiled a long running record of brutality and disregard for international laws. Although Sudan is expected to follow laws implemented by the UN and Vienna Convention, international expectations are largely ignored when they contradict the more restrictive national law and as such, institutions such as prisons are not accountable to an independent overseeing body. Many cases of violations are only brought to the public eye and to bodies such as the United Nations, through non-governmental organizations on behalf of those who have had their rights violated. Not only is this the case due to widespread ignorance of rights discourses in the Sudan but also because many victims are not in a position to take actions themselves. So although there is an awareness of the situation in Sudan, the extent of what takes place is relatively unknown. It creates a state of violence within the country that is able to rule by dominating and terrorizing people from within. It is not simply pain inflicted on individuals through torture but a soul crushing movement of domination over each and every individual, in each and every sphere of life – from the level of cultural expression to the right of fair trial.