Hundreds of Sudanese civilians have celebrated after a court sentenced 29 members of the country’s national intelligence service to death by hanging over the killing of a teacher during protests that led to the overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir.
- The security forces were convicted of the torture and killing of student Ahmed al-Khair
- Mr Khair’s death while in detention was a key point in the uprising against Omar al-Bashir
- He was detained on January 31 in his hometown of Kassala and reported dead two days later
The death of teacher and protester Ahmed al-Khair while in detention in February has been a key point — and a symbol — in the uprising that shook the large African country.
Thirteen defendants were sentenced to prison terms and a further four were acquitted in the ruling, which could face several stages of appeal.
“We are now sure our revolution is continuing on the right path,” said protester Amna Mohammed.
She was among a cheering crowd of hundreds that gathered to welcome the verdict outside the court in Omdurman, the capital Khartoum’s twin city.
The group that spearheaded the protests welcomed the ruling, the first to deliver sentences over crackdowns on demonstrations in the months before and after Bashir was toppled in April.
“This day is a victory for justice, a victory for all Sudanese and a victory for the revolution,” Ahmed al-Khair’s brother Saad told reporters after the verdict
Mr Khair’s death ultimately lead to the creation of a joint military-civilian Sovereign Council which committed to rebuilding the country and promising elections in three years.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of unions that led the protests against Bashir, also welcomed the verdict.
The group vowed to continue pursuing and bringing to justice security officials accused of torture.
Mohammed al-Feki Soliman, a member of the Sovereign Council, said the trial “renews the Sudanese people’s trust in their judicial institutions”.
Al-Khair’s death an ‘inevitable consequence’
Mr Khair was detained on January 31 in his hometown of Kassala and was reported dead two days later.
His body was taken to a local hospital where his family said it was covered in bruises.
At the time, police denied any wrongdoing and blamed his death on an “illness,” without providing any details.
Judge al-Sadik al-Amin al-Fek, however, said on Monday (local time) that the teacher was beaten and tortured while in detention.
“His death was an inevitable consequence of the beating and torture,” he said.
All those sentenced were policemen who were working in the jail where Mr Khair was held, or intelligence agents in the region.
Following a tradition based on Islamic law, or Sharia, the court gave Mr Khair’s family the opportunity to “forgive” the suspects, which could have led to their pardon, but the offer was declined.
Taj al-Ser Ali al-Hebr, the country’s top prosecutor, welcomed the verdict as a “victory”.
He called on the Government to join the UN Convention Against Torture.
Bashir’s war crimes
Earlier this month, a court in Khartoum convicted Bashir, who was jailed by the military after he was removed from power, of money laundering and corruption, and sentenced him to two years in a minimum security lockup.
The image of the former dictator in a defendant’s cage on live TV sent a strong message for all of Sudan.
However, the deposed ruler is under indictment by the International Criminal Court on far more serious charges of war crimes and genocide linked to his brutal suppression of the insurgency in the western province of Darfur in the early 2000s.
The military has refused to extradite him to stand trial in The Hague.
Bashir is now awaiting a separate trial, on charges of involvement in the killing of protesters in the months prior to his ouster.
Amnesty International and other rights groups have called on the new Government to hold security forces accountable for killing scores of people in their efforts to stifle protests against military rule, especially those behind a deadly crackdown on a huge sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum last June.
The Sudanese Government recently appointed independent judges to oversee investigations into the killings of protesters, a major achievement for the pro-democracy movement.