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Government's intolerance of dissenting opinions and reprisals against human rights defenders raise concern

(CIHRS/IFEX) - November 6, 2010 - The undersigned organizations from the Arab region are deeply concerned over the arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance of Mr. Abdelrahman Mohamed Al-Gasim, a prominent Sudanese human rights defender and a member of the Darfur Bar Association (DBA) and of the Executive Committee for the Sudanese Human Rights Monitor (SHRM), and other Sudanese human rights defenders. It is believed that most of them are facing a serious threat of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

Mr. Al-Gasim was reportedly arrested by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) agents in the area of Suq Al Arabia, downtown Khartoum, while on the way to attend an SHRM Executive Committee meeting on Saturday October 30th, 2010. Currently, no official information about his whereabouts or his official charges has been made available. His lawyer and family remain unaware of his location and have not been allowed to see him.

We believe that the targeting of Mr. Al-Gasim by Sudanese authorities was in response to his active engagement in international and regional human rights mechanisms, and constitutes a reprisal. Mr. Al-Gasim received threats from the Sudanese authorities while participating in a CIHRS sponsored mission to the 15th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva this past September. These threats of reprisal were directed at Mr. Al-Gasim for his activities during the HRC session, which included engaging in lobbying for the extension of the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan and being a featured panelist in a side event entitled "Sudan: Impunity, Repression and Conflict on the Rise." He had also previously participated in the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR).

We are also concerned about the arbitrary arrests of other Darfuri human rights activists by the NISS which coincided with Mr. Al-Gasim's arrest. On Saturday October 30th, Abdelrahman Adam Abdallah, Derar Adam Abdallah, Manal Mohamed Ahmed, Aisha Sardo Sherif, Aziza Ali Idris, and others were also abducted by security forces. Confirmation of their detention by NISS authorities was made available the following day, October 31st. Access to all human rights defenders has been restricted since their arrest on October 30th.

These arrests are particularly worrying in the context of the upcoming voters' registration and referendum in Southern Sudan. The present government's intolerance of dissenting opinions and lack of respect for its human rights obligations during this critical period are clearly reflected in the events of the past few days.

CIHRS has sent urgent communications about the case of the human rights defenders to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the Office of the President of the UN HRC, and the UN Civil Society Unit. CIHRS has also referred the case to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa at the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR). We believe that this incident requires prompt and effective action from the UN and ACHPR.

The undersigned organizations call on the international community to ensure that the Sudanese authorities reveal the whereabouts of all these human rights defenders, and secure their unconditional release. Additionally, the Sudanese authorities should publicly guarantee that the detainees will not be subjected to any human rights violations, including torture, and physical/or psychological abuse, during their interrogation and illegal detention.

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