Sudan’s government is targeting civil society in an attempt to stifle the country’s few remaining independent voices, says an official of a leading NGO.
“They don’t want anybody who will find a venue and the forum to tell truth to power. The civil society is the only body that is doing this job because the media is totally under the control of the government,” said Al-Baqir Mukhtar, director of the Al-Khatim Adlan (above) Center for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE). The Khartoum authorities recently revoked KACE’s registration and closed four other rights groups on the grounds that they were promoting a “political agenda,” allegations Mukhtar vehemently rejects.
“We don’t follow any political agenda. If you speak about democracy, if you speak about peace, is that political agenda? We are civil society. We speak about cultural reforms; we speak about educational reform; we speak about peace through non-violence. If they consider this political, then they are wrong,” he told VOA.
Security forces also arrested Abdallah Abu Al-Reesh, the executive director of the Sudanese Studies Center, after activists delivered a petition against the center’s closure to the National Human Rights Commission.
Sudan’s first Vice President this week cited a favorite book of Osama bin-Laden to defend the suppression of pro-democracy NGOs.
Ali Osman Taha told Sudan TV that NGOs were used by foreign intelligence agencies as an “interface” to promote their agendas. But a preliminary examination of the conspiratorial text does not verify Taha’s claims, the Sudan Tribune reports.
Contrary to such assertions, KACE operates openly and transparently, and enjoys a diverse range of funding, the Tribune reports:
Many of its different activities are funded by foreign embassies in Khartoum, and international foundations. KACE is also working on a project about the reform of school curriculum funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and another one related to the civil society participation in public affairs supported by the Open Society Institute.
KACE has filed a petition with the Sudan Human Rights Commission because civil society groups feel under attack, said Mukhtar (right). He rejects government allegations that civil society groups are a voice of the West and criticized obscure rules governing the receipt of foreign funds without prior official approval.
“The government said that, but the government does not give any guideline as to how you get this approval. Is it before we apply for the funds, or is it after we applied and get the approval from the donor?” he said.
NGOs filed a lawsuit in 2006 against the government’s insistence on prior permission before receiving any foreign donations, but the case has not been decided. In the meantime, KACE will pursue both legal and active campaigning approaches to challenging the crackdown.
“All the top lawyers of Sudan came to our support, and they already prepared the petition and they handed it this [Wednesday] morning to the commissioner. So, we are going to follow the legal path until the constitutional court and, at the same time, we are going to campaign against this by a series of protests, memos and sit-ins until this decision is changed,” Mukhtar said.
Sudan’s Islamist regime has a track record of stifling freedom of expression, according to Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide, a book by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea.
As a recent review of the book by Paul Berman – “The Thought Police” - in The New Republic observes:
Sudan’s Islamist government sparked a civil war partly by trying to impose a ferocious version of sharia on Christians and other non-Muslims in the south, and by the time the war ended (though the violence seems to be starting up again) more than two million people of various confessions had been killed…..Islamists in Sudan have declared the Nubas apostate, which puts half a million people at risk—though a full-scale massacre has failed to occur.
The book also details how the regime has targeted Muslim democrats and Islamic modernists, Berman notes:
Marshall and Shea punctiliously demonstrate that persecution by the radicals focuses everywhere on the Islamic humanists, liberal reformers, and free-thinkers. Some very distinguished Islamic reformists have been killed—for instance, the Sudanese intellectual Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, who was executed by Sudan’s Islamist government on a charge of blasphemy in 1985. …..[O]ne of his disciples, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im of Emory University School of Law, published an incisive book in 2008 called Islam and the Secular State [that] offered exceptionally powerful arguments for a tolerant and modern Islam.
Berman’s essay was cited by The New York Times’ David Brooks in a column on his “Sidney [Hook]” Awards for the best essays of 2012.
You can show your solidarity with Sudan’s beleaguered civil society by posting to the Facebook page of the Sudanese Development Initiative.