Years after militia raid, fear still grips Darfur village

A Sudanese woman carries her baby on her back as she works in the village of Shattaya in Darfur region, following her return home after over a decade of being displaced. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2019

Years after militia raid, fear still grips Darfur village

  • Villagers complain that armed men are still in the area, and that lands confiscated by Arab pastoralists have not been returned

SHATTAYA/SUDAN: Sudanese farmer Suleiman Yakub vividly remembers the day he was hung from a tree and left to die by militiamen who attacked his village in Darfur, killing, looting and burning.
“Villagers were executed in front of me,” said Yakub, 59, a resident of Shattaya village, which was attacked by the notorious Janjaweed militia in February 2004 when the conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur was at its peak.
“I was handcuffed and hung from a tree with a rope around my neck, but I survived,” he said, showing the scar on his neck. “We still don’t feel safe.”
The fighting in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against Khartoum’s then government of now-ousted leader Omar Bashir, alleging racial discrimination, marginalization and exclusion.
Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed, a group of mostly raiding nomads that it recruited and armed to create a militia of gunmen who were often mounted on horses or camels.
They have been accused of applying a scorched earth policy against ethnic groups suspected of supporting the rebels, raping, killing, looting and burning villages.
The campaign earned Bashir and others arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
About 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict, the UN says.
Thousands of peacekeeping troops from a joint UN-African Union mission were deployed in 2007 to curb the conflict, but their numbers have been gradually reduced since mid-2018 as the conflict has subsided.
Many Shattaya residents, like Yakub, have tentatively started to return to their homes, made of mud brick and thatch, after living in run-down camps for years.
Their village was one of those that faced the brunt of the attack unleashed by the Janjaweed in the early years of the conflict.
Residents say about 1,800 villagers were killed when gunmen on horses, camels and motorcycles tore through the village, firing guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
The Hague-based ICC has charged Bashir with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for abuses in Darfur, including for atrocities committed in Shattaya.
Bashir was ousted by his army in April after months of nationwide protests against his iron-fisted rule of three decades.


300,000 - people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict that erupted in 2004.

But tensions remain over land ownership in Darfur, and those responsible for the war’s darkest years have not been brought to justice.
Sudan’s new authorities who came to power after Bashir’s overthrow have vowed to end the conflict in Darfur as well as in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
They are holding peace talks this week in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, with three rebel groups who fought Bashir’s forces in these regions.
After more than 15 years, the brutality unleashed on Shattaya, whose residents are mainly from the African Fur tribe, is still evident.
Most houses in Shattaya are severely damaged and charred, with residents who have returned living in make-shift shelters, an AFP correspondent who visited the village reported.
The road to Shattaya is unpaved and dusty, and riddled with pools of muddy water.
Villagers complain that armed men are still in the area, and that lands confiscated by Arab pastoralists have not been returned.
“We have not got back our farm,” said Mohamed Izhak, 29, who claims his family owned a lemon and orange orchard on the outskirts of the village.
Izhak returned to Shattaya last year, after living in a camp for years alongside tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict.
Izhak said his father, two brothers and three uncles were killed in the 2004 attack.
“We don’t feel safe, even now ... we are unable to build proper homes, we are living in small shelters made from plastic and dry grass.”
Hajj Abdelrahman, 63, lives in a room that survived the destruction of his home.
When he returned to Shattaya, he found pastoralists occupying his family’s farm.
“The farm is destroyed, they have cut the trees,” Abdelrahman told AFP, adding that he was wary of talking to the pastoralists “because they are armed.”
“They are not stealing our livestock anymore, but if they are not disarmed we will not feel fully secure. We also want our land back.”
Many villagers are planting vegetables just outside what is left of their houses, hoping that one day they will get their farms back.
“I have my farm outside the village, but I cannot go there because I don’t feel safe,” Siddiq Youssef told AFP.
“If those militiamen are not disarmed, then we can’t have peace. We are scared even now when we see them.”

Iran sentences British lawyer to 10 years in jail for spying

Iran has a long track record of detaining foreigners and political prisoners in Evin prison (pictured). (File/Reuters)
Updated 11 August 2020

Iran sentences British lawyer to 10 years in jail for spying

  • British-Iranian dual national is accused of recruiting Iranian officials to work for MI6
  • Latest convictions highlight Iran’s ‘arbitrary’ targeting of foreigners with Western links

LONDON: A British-Iranian lawyer has been convicted on charges of spying and sentenced to 10 years in prison, along with four other Iranian nationals.

Iran’s judiciary said Shahram Shirkhani, a Tehran-based lawyer, spied for British intelligence services and tried to recruit Iranian officials to work for MI6.

Shirkhani, who also taught law at the Islamic Azad University at the time of his arrest, previously served as a legal adviser to Iran’s foreign investment authority.

Gholamhossein Esmaili, a judiciary spokesman, said Shikhani had passed on classified information about Iran’s central bank and defense ministry contracts.

Shikhani was one of “five Iranians who were spying for foreign intelligence services” to be arrested over the past few months, Esmaili said, alleging that they had been working for Britain, Israel and Germany.

The only other person named by Esmaili for spying was Masoud Mosaheb, an Austrian-Iranian national who served as secretary-general of the Iran-Austria friendship association.

In a separate case to that of Shikhani, Mosaheb was also sentenced to 10 years in jail for spying for Israeli and German intelligence agencies, Esmaili said.

Tehran has been widely criticised for its judicial process and for targeting foreigners perceived to have links with Western nations.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has previously noted the pattern of Iran detaining dual nationals, and said the arrests and detentions of many of those detained by Tehran are “arbitrary,” and that authorities targeted people based on their “national or social origin.” 

Human Rights Watch said Iranian authorities “systematically deny” foreigners charged with national security crimes — such as Shikhani and Mosaheb — with access to lawyers of their choosing.

They also said that many of those sentenced in Iran to long jail terms or even death “did not have access to any legal counsel during investigation.”

Last month, Iran executed Mahmoud Mousavi Majd, a former translator convicted of spying for the US and Israel. He was accused of helping locate Qassem Soleimani, the powerful commander killed by the US in a drone strike.

Reza Asgari was also executed in July after he was convicted of spying on Iran’s missile program for the US.