Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sudan: Free Female Activist

May 11, 2011

(New York) - Sudanese authorities should immediately release Hawa Abdallah or formally charge her with a credible, recognized offense, Human Rights Watch said today. Abdallah, who was arrested on May 6, 2011, is a community activist from the Abu Shouk displaced persons camp in North Darfur and a staff member of the United Nations/African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID). Sudanese authorities should guarantee her full due process rights, and her physical well-being, Human Rights Watch said.

On May 8, Sudan's state news service published an article accusing Abdallah of "christianizing" children in displaced persons camps and of links to a rebel group. The crime of apostasy is punishable by death under Sudanese law. An accompanying photo of Abdallah holding a Bible shows visible signs of fatigue and what appear to be bruises on her face.

"We are deeply concerned that Hawa Abdallah is at risk of serious ill-treatment and torture," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The government's own photo of her supports our concerns."

A group of armed national security personnel abducted Abdallah on the evening of May 6, at a residence in Abu Shouk village, near the displaced persons camp. They detained her in El Fasher, then moved her to Khartoum, according to sources in Darfur, but have not charged her or allowed her access to counsel or her family.

Sudanese authorities should give her immediate access to her family, lawyers of her choosing, and staff from the Darfur peacekeeping mission so they can check on her condition, Human Rights Watch said. She should have immediate access to an independent doctor to carry out a medical examination.

Authorities have refused requests by UNAMID peacekeepers to see Abdallah. The refusal blatantly disregards the Status of Forces Agreement between Sudan and UNAMID requiring cooperation on all criminal cases involving staff members, Human Rights Watch said.

In 2009, following the International Criminal Court's announcement of charges against President Omar al-Bashir, national security authorities also detained Abdallah for six days and seriously injured her during interrogations.

The National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) has long used its broad arrest and detention powers to target activists and real or perceived opponents of the ruling National Congress Party. So far in 2011 alone, the NISS has detained hundreds of people in connection with a wave of popular protests against the ruling party, mistreating, and torturing scores of the detainees.

Human Rights Watch called on the Sudanese government to condemn all acts of torture and ill-treatment by national security officials and to hold abusive officials responsible for violations. It also renewed calls on the government to reform its National Security Act of 2010 in line with Sudan's constitution and international human rights law.

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