US voices concern over Sudan protests crackdown

Sudanese demonstrators run from a teargas canister fired by riot policemen in Omdurman, Khartoum. (Reuters)
Updated 23 January 2019
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US voices concern over Sudan protests crackdown

  • Excessive use of force and intimidation of the press 'would jeopardize ties with the US'
  • The statement was the first by Washington after a month of mushrooming protests

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Sudan to release activists detained in a wave of protests and to allow peaceful expression, warning that better ties with Washington were on the line.
The statement was the first by Washington after a month of mushrooming protests in what is widely seen as the biggest threat to President Omar al-Bashir's 30 years of iron-fisted rule.
The United States said it was "concerned about the increasing number of arrests and detentions" and urged the government to free "all journalists, activists and peaceful protesters who have been arbitrarily detained."
"We also call on the government to allow for a credible and independent investigation into the deaths and injuries of protesters," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in the statement.
"Moreover, to address the legitimate grievances of the population, the government must create a safe and secure environment for public expression and dialogue with the opposition and civil society in a more inclusive political process," he said.
He said that excessive use of force and intimidation of the press and rights activists would jeopardize ties with the United States.
"A new, more positive relationship between the United States and Sudan requires meaningful political reform and clear, sustained progress on respect for human rights," Palladino said.
The United States has been slowly mending relations with Sudan after decades of tension, including over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's refuge in the country in the 1990s and an anti-rebel campaign in the western region of Darfur that Washington described as genocide.
President Donald Trump's administration lifted sanctions on Sudan in 2017 and has said that, in return for further progress, it would remove the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism -- a designation that has held back foreign investment.
Human rights groups say that more than 40 people including several medics have been killed in clashes with security forces since the protests erupted on Dec. 19.
The authorities say 26 people have been killed, including at least one doctor, but blame rebel provocateurs they say have infiltrated the ranks of the protesters.


Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.