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'Beaten' Sudanese activist fights on

2012-03-09 20:12

Khartoum - After almost two months in custody following a major protest which he helped to lead at the University of Khartoum, Sudanese student activist Tajalsir Jaafar is defiant and the campus remains shut down.

Sudan's intelligence agency calls him a failing student in search of "fame" and denies Jaafar's allegations of beatings.

But activists say his case is typical of the treatment routinely dealt out by National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

"There continues to be a pattern of arrests of activists, journalists and human rights defenders by the NISS, who are often held in incommunicado detention without access to a lawyer or their family," said Khairunissa Dhala, Amnesty International's Sudan campaigner.

The London-based watchdog issued "urgent" appeals during his incarceration, saying he was at risk of torture or other ill-treatment, and was initially held at an undisclosed location.

More than one year after the Arab Spring uprisings began to overthrow oppressive rulers throughout the Middle East, the veteran activist Jaafar feels inspired, despite his ordeal.

But in an interview with AFP he said Sudan - governed by the Islamist regime of President Omar al-Bashir since 1989 - cannot be easily changed because the country's incessant wars have left its people divided.

Yet he pushes on, not broken but emboldened by the 56 days he says he recently spent in custody without charge, never having set foot in a courtroom.

Jaafar, a slight man with an angular face and a goatee, is a chemistry student who says he served earlier short stints in custody while campaigning for Girifna, a non-violent youth movement seeking the resignation of Bashir's National Congress Party government.

Beaten and interrogated

The latest arrest came on December 30, the day after the university suspended classes following a five-day sit-in and exam boycott which Jaafar helped lead to protest against a police "attack" inside the campus.

He says he had boarded a bus outside the university when suddenly two camouflaged pickup trucks mounted with machineguns blocked its path.

Each truck carried several armed and uniformed members of the NISS, Jaafar says.

"Some of them came onto the bus and they pointed at me and they told me to come down."

Blindfolded, he was taken to a building where he says he was beaten and interrogated.

"There are still marks on my body," he says, showing thick, faint purplish lines across his shoulders.

Transferred to Khartoum's Kober prison, he alleges he received an even worse thrashing on the soles of his feet and his back with a whip, coated in plastic, with something heavy like wood inside.

Jaafar says he screamed at the pain, which produced no tears.

"You are in shock, so you can't cry. But I cried later on in the cell," as other inmates tried to console him, he said through a translator.

Poor academic standing

The NISS says Jaafar is in "poor academic standing" at the university, where he followed a political agenda that included seeking a formal apology from the police for entering the campus. It says the government is taking steps to "facilitate" some of the issues he is concerned with.

"After two weeks from his arrest, the NISS heard rumours from social media sites that he was being tortured and they called his family to come see him. He was not tortured as the NISS has no policy of torture and beating," the agency said.

"NISS also believes his claims are to seek fame."

Amnesty International said Jaafar's family was informed on January 18 that he was in NISS custody at Kober prison, where they were subsequently allowed two 15-minute visits.

It said that during the incarceration his mother heard that Jaafar had died. But she told Amnesty that the intelligence service refused to confirm or deny the rumours "and threatened to charge her with harassment," the watchdog said.

Jaafar was released on January 23 without charge and without having had access to a lawyer, Amnesty said.

"His case is significant because he is a well-known student activist and he was instrumental in mobilising students during the University of Khartoum protest and sit-in," the biggest in years, said another Girifna member, asking not to be identified.

The campus is scheduled to reopen on March 18, and Jaafar says he feels a responsibility to continue his activism.

"I'm in good spirits," he says. "I'm not afraid."