On February 19, 2019, authorities reportedly violently attacked and detained prominent University of Khartoum student-activist Wefag Gorashi, along with her sister Wafaa Gorashi, in apparent retaliation for their participation in a nationwide protest movement.
Since December 19, 2018, protesters in Khartoum and throughout Sudan have been demonstrating over food shortages and dire economic conditions, and demanding the resignation of President Omar al-Bashir. Scholars, students, and various professional groups have played a leading role in the protests. As of April 9, at least 117 people had reportedly been killed during the protests. Women, including students and scholars, have played a prominent role in the protests, at times accounting for seventy percent of protesters. One senior government official reportedly told security forces to “break the girls,” apparently in response to the prominence of female protesters. Reports indicate that female protesters have been disproportionately subjected to detentions, blackmail, sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of violence.
Wefag is a leader of several youth groups in Khartoum and a member of the Khartoum University Student Committee. Wefag was previously detained by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on May 5, 2016, after she co-organized a protest at the University of Khartoum over the university’s decision to deny the students request to form a student union among other issues. She and Wafaa—an activist, doctor, and member of the Sudanese Doctors Committee—have actively participated in the protest movement.
On February 19, NISS officers reportedly confronted Wefag and Wafaa as they entered a store in Khartoum. Reports indicate that Wefag and Wafaa asked the officers why they were being stopped. Officers then reportedly used electric shock batons on Wefag and Wafaa, dragged them out of the store, and took them to NISS headquarters.
After being held for several hours, authorities released Wafaa, but issued a warrant for Wefag’s arrest, and continued to hold her incommunicado at NISS headquarters. On April 11, the military removed al-Bashir from power. Soon after, authorities began releasing hundreds of political prisoners. It is unclear whether Wefag was one of the political prisoners released at that time, though sources indicate she is no longer in custody.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violence and detentions against a student and an activist in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is a party. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, freedom of expression, and democratic society generally.