North Africa, West Asia

The clampdown on universities in Sudan

Sudanese universities are growing extremely hostile towards students and the violence is only escalating. If no agreement is reached, it is very likely that there will be much more bloodshed. 

Reem Abbas
2 April 2014

It has been two months and two weeks since Professor Siddiq Nurein was arrested. On the 16 January 2014, Dr Nurein, a 42 year-old associate professor at the University of West Kordofan and married father of four, was arrested from a hospital in En Nahud city, the capital of West Kordofan state. Dr Nurein was there nursing his sick son when security officers carried out the arrest. He was imprisoned in Al-Foula prison for two days then taken to El-Obeid prison in North Kordofan state. His wife said that the family had to commute to El-Obeid to visit him and deliver clothes and other items. 

Almost three weeks prior to his arrest, police and security forces barged into campus using live ammunition and tear gas. This followed protests by students from Darfur who were objecting to the imposition of tuition fees from which they are supposedly exempt. The Darfuri student union at West Kordofan university protested in September and October and organized sit-ins when the university refused to exempt them from tuition fees which they say is their right as stipulated in the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), signed in 2011. The same problem had already occurred in other universities. In fact, in December 2012 four students at Al-Jazeera University were tortured to death after protesting against the payment of tuition fees, although they were also exempt as per the peace agreement. Not far from the University of West Kordofan, a Darfuri student group also protested at having to pay tuition and against the banning by the universioty of 30 students for two years after a sit-in the previous September, which caused a public outcry.

Dr Nurein is an activist on campus and stood by the students when they clashed with the university's administration. Moreover, as a supervisor to the Darfur Student's Association, Dr Nurein was supposed to attend a meeting between them and the university's chancellor the same day of his arrest. Dr Nurein was arrested under the emergency law which was imposed on the state by its military governor in October 2013. In Sudan, the emergency law is imposed whenever there is conflict. In fact, his family was told that his arrest warrant came from the governor of the state in person, which doesn't come as a surprise seeing that he is also a member of the Sudanese Congress Party, an opposition party.

The students continue to resist. After Dr Nurein's arrest, the Darfuri student union called for his releasee and said that its members will resign if he is not released. Furthermore, 450 students refused to sit their examinations in protest.

In recent weeks, students from the University of Khartoum have protested at the deteriorating situation in Darfur. The security forces cracked down killing one student, injuring many and arresting at least a dozen others. This protest led to the closure of the University of Khartoum. A few days after that, Abdelmoniem Adam Mohamed, a human rights activist trying to provide legal aid to the arrested students was arrested from his office in downtown Khartoum.

The authorities are very sensitive to any mobilization at universities as Sudan's two revolutions, in 1964 and in 1985, were sparked by student movements and came from the heart of Sudan's universities.

Both sides are not backing down. Sudanese universities are growing extremely hostile towards students and the violence is only escalating. The student body is the most active politically and most of the recent protest movements in Sudan were inspired by students or centred around universities. Many university professors have kept a distance in an attempt to keep their jobs and the ones who do speak up are very likely to be arrested, as was the case in October 2013, when nine professors were arrested for meeting to discuss the deteriorating university environment for both professors and students.

If no agreement is reached, it is very likely that the situation will continue to escalate and that there will be a lot more bloodshed. 

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