KHARTOUM, Sudan, (AP) – A Sudanese opposition leader said Thursday his 45-day detention and the shuttering of his party newspaper are proof that the country’s historic elections haven’t changed the regime’s “oppressive” ways.
Hassan Turabi was arrested in May after sharply criticizing Sudan’s historic multiparty elections, saying they were marred by “shameful” fraud.
President Omar al-Bashir easily won another 5-year term in these elections, and his party tightened its grip on power.
Rights groups have said the elections failed to meet international standards, and emboldened a regime crackdown on opponents.
“For the moment, I am free,” said the 77-year-old Turabi, who was released Thursday. He was the brains behind the coup that brought al-Bashir to power in 1989, but the two have since had a falling out and for the past 10 years he has often been under some form of detention.
He said since the elections, the regime continues to use oppressive means and hasn’t even pretended to adopt more democratic practices.
On the same night of his arrest in May, four journalists at Turabi’s party newspaper were detained and the newspaper was shut down. The journalists have been charged with terrorism and espionage.
“The same system is taking different faces, but it is substantially the same,” he said. “Oppression is incapable of following any guidelines or restrictions.”
Turabi said he doesn’t know why he was arrested or released but that shutting his party newspaper was a serious escalation because it sends a “frightening” message to other government critics.
Turabi had especially angered authorities last year when he urged al-Bashir to face international charges for war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur conflict. He was then detained for six weeks and let go without any charges.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday the government crackdown against political activities and freedom of expression has increased after the elections, including the return to prepublication censorship, preventing activists from leaving the country and detaining students.
“The electoral victory has essentially emboldened the ruling parties, particularly in the north, to crack down on opponents, activists and journalists,” said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.