A coalition of Sudanese activists protested at the Sudanese Human Rights Commission in Khartoum on Thursday, demanding the immediate release of sixteen students who are being held without charge in Sudan.
Government security forces conducted a raid on the all-female Zahra Seminary’s dormitory at the beginning of October, evicting 70 women and beating and arresting 19. While three of those arrested were released after five days, the remaining 16 continue to be detained amid fears that they could face the death penalty for supporting Darfur rebel groups and spying against the state.
“I was in my room collecting my things when six policemen came into the room and beat me with batons on my chest and on my arms and back,” one student explained to Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch have confirmed that University administrators ordered all students to vacate the Zahra dormitory complex at the end of September to allow scheduled building maintenance to take place. The women, who had nowhere else to stay, refused to vacate the complex. Days later, on 5th October, government forces raided the dormitory.
Since the incident, the Sudanese government has suggested that the female students involved were assisting Darfuri rebel groups; their refusal to evacuate their dormitories was, allegedly, driven by their mutinous intentions.
One of those released recently spoke to the Guardian, claiming that the inhabitants of the Zahra dormitory were targeted by the government because they were Darfuri; she added that a number were sexually abused, force-fed drugs and subjected to racial abuse.
“They started beating and harassing us. They gave us tablets and they took our blood.”
A statement made by Human Rights Watch highlights the “organised campaign against the Darfuri students at universities in Sudan”, which has led to two previous attacks on female Darfuri students since 2003, and urges the Sudanese government not only to take action on the reported abuses but also to implement the judicial process for those detained.
The protests held on Thursday saw members of the Darfur Students’ Association, Change Now and No to Women’s Oppression join the remaining students of the Zahra dormitory in taking to the streets, brandishing banners and petitions calling for the release of the women and the prosecution of the perpetrators.
Amal Habbani, a journalist and member of ‘No to Women’s Oppression’, told the Guardian that this particular incident is one of many, repeated examples of the Sudanese’s government’s contempt for women’s rights.
“Darfuri women are always targeted by this government, as they target women in general. They should release the students immediately and take the people responsible to court.”