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Activists and journalists arrested ahead of referendum

Officials from the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission hang posters in the southern capital Juba to encourage people to register to vote in the January referendum. The vote will likely lead to the secession of Southern Sudan
Officials from the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission hang posters in the southern capital Juba to encourage people to register to vote in the January referendum. The vote will likely lead to the secession of Southern Sudan

IRIN

In the run-up to a January referendum on Southern Sudan's independence, Sudanese human rights defenders and critical journalists are being arbitrarily arrested and disappeared, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and other IFEX members. The regime is particularly hunting down Darfuri activists and journalists.

On 14 December, Abdul Bassit Mirghani, manager of El Fanar Center for Human Rights, was arrested after attempting to hold a women's rights meeting as part of the "No to oppressing women" initiative. Mirghani was planning to use the meeting to coordinate a march to protest women being "flogged for allegedly 'sensual' apparel or for any other trivial allegation brought forth by the Sudanese government," reports ANHRI. Mirghani is being held in an unknown location.

Last month, CIHRS, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and 18 other rights groups from the Arab region drew attention to the arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance of Abdelrahman Mohamed al-Gasim, among other rights defenders. Al-Gasim, a lawyer and member of the executive committee for the Sudanese Human Rights Monitor (SHRM), was arrested on 30 October in Khartoum.

CIHRS believes al-Gasim's arrest was in reprisal for his participation in a CIHRS-sponsored mission to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in September. He received threats from Sudanese authorities while he was lobbying the UNHRC for the extension of the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan.

The Sudanese regime has controlled media coverage of the political and humanitarian crisis in Darfur for years. Outraged by Radio Dabanga's coverage of the Darfur conflict, authorities arrested Radio Dabanga director Abdelrahman Adam Abdelrahman and closed down its office on 30 October, reports ANHRI. Radio Dabanga is broadcast from Holland but 13 of its staff were arrested in Khartoum during the raid. Abdelrahman has been subjected to torture while in custody, reports the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC).

Intelligence officials arrested Darfuri journalist Gafar Alsabki Ibrahim in a raid of the office of the independent paper "Alsahafa" on 3 November, report Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC). Ibrahim's whereabouts are unknown.

Also in November, security forces stormed the office of the Human Rights and Advocacy Network for Democracy (HAND), a coalition of Darfuri groups, and arrested several activists and shut down the office, report ANHRI and Human Rights Watch. .

The exact number of those arrested is not known, says Human Rights Watch. Detainees have been denied access to family members and lawyers.

The government will hold a referendum on southern self-determination in January, according to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a 22-year civil war in Sudan.

According to the BBC, Southern Sudan is likely to vote to split away from Sudan, which would increase the relative importance of the Darfur rebels in a smaller country. A return to north-south conflict is also a real prospect, says the BBC, and the authorities would not want to have to fight on two or more fronts.

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