"Are you enjoying the Formula 1, Al Bashir?" Picture by Karin Goodwin. This week, around 30 members of Glasgow’s Sudanese community, along with their supporters, held up banners in the middle of Glasgow’s busy city centre on Wednesday as part of the protest. Slogans called on president Omar Al-Bashir to leave. Al Bashir has been in power since he took part in a military coup in 1989, and is accused of holding corrupt elections.
A banner asked: “are you enjoying the Formula1 Al Bashir?” in reference to the President’s decision to attend the international car racing event in Dubai earlier this week rather than deal with the political unrest in Sudan.
Protestors involved in the “emergency demonstration” claimed it was held “in solidarity with the people of Sudan who are on strike and suffering from a corrupt government that has just cut subsidies for medicine.” The protestors called on Scots to stand with them and “spread the word”.
The three-day strike, which started in Sudan on Sunday, was organised by young activists using social media and came after authorities announced a 30 percent rise in fuel prices as well as a sharp increase in the cost of medicine and other essentials – some of which are reported to have reached three times their original price.
The protestors called on Scots to stand with them and “spread the word”.
Opposition parties largely backed the strikes, which saw the streets of major cities such as Khartoum mostly empty. However, participation was reportedly low, due to fears of retribution; tear gas was used against one group of protestors. Protests have been met with violence previously in Sudan, and in September 2013 an estimated 210 people were killed during mass protests in Khartoum.
In response to this week’s action, authorities ordered the closure of Omdurman, a popular private television channel that has been critical of austerity measures, and seized entire print runs of newspapers. These moves have prompted solidarity actions in a number of cities across the world with protests also held in Washington and future events planned in London.
One protestor in Glasgow, who asked to be named only as Osman due to his concerns for the safety of family living in Sudan, said that the hikes in prices felt like a last straw for his fellow country people.
Osman fled Sudan in 2015 after being arrested for his political activities as a statistics student in Khartoum. He claimed that despite attempts by the president to restrict free speech, the people could take no more.
“The cost of everything is increasing,” he told Open Democracy. “If people can’t afford the medicine they need they will die”.
Osman added that “the government has arrested so many people. Others have been killed or injured. It is risky to take part in civil disobedience but people cannot take it any more. People are really suffering from war, from bombing and now this bad situation.”
"Despite attempts by the president to restrict free speech, the people could take no more."
In an appeal to public opinion in Scotland, Osman said that “people in the UK – and in Glasgow – need to know what is happening. I don’t think people in most western countries know the reality; that we are ruled by someone who has killed thousands in Darfur, that he has ruled by force since staging a coup in 1989.”
Maddy Crowther, of Waging Peace – a London-based human rights NGO which has made work on Sudan its priority – said: "it's great that the Sudanese community in Glasgow are standing in solidarity with their fellow nationals in Sudan.They are able to exercise the right to protest on behalf of their friends and family members back home who are fearful of demonstrating publicly, terrified that the Sudanese government will do what it did the last time there was a widespread uprising in 2013, and issue 'shoot to kill' orders, murdering hundreds of peaceful civilians.”
Crowther claimed that the UK Government has done little to speak out on human rights abuses in Sudan over the past year including the escalation of conflict in Jebel Marra region of Darfur which displaced hundreds of thousands, and the continuation of both targeted and indiscriminate bombing in the southern Nuba Mountains. “But necessity breeds invention and the 'Sudan civil disobedience' movement has seen huge swathes of the population stay home, signaling their contempt for the regime, while out of the reach of security officials. There is a new, youthful political activism in Sudan that is genuinely exciting.”
In late September this year an Amnesty International investigation found alleged evidence of repeated use of chemical weapons against civilians, including very young children, by Sudanese government forces in one of the most remote regions of Darfur. It is claimed the attacks had taken place over the previous eight months, which killed an estimated 200 people. The Sudanese government, however, has said the allegations are baseless.
Sudan's economy has struggled since South Sudan seceded in 2011.
Crowther called on the UK Government to ensure transparency around the EU-wide Khartoum Process, which aims to address issues around the migration flow from the Horn of Africa: “there is a suspicion that this radio silence about human rights abuses is an attempt on the part of the UK to secure concessions from the Sudanese regime on core concerns like reducing migration numbers.” She added: “but people will rightfully continue to flee while their government bombs, rapes, murders and even chemically maims them.”
Sudan's economy has struggled since South Sudan seceded in 2011, taking with it three quarters of the country's oil output.
Khaled Al Mubarak, of the Sudanese Embassy in London, insisted that despite this, the Sudanese government had invested “billions” in the country’s infrastructure in recent years.
He claimed that the problems with austerity in Sudan were due to the neoliberal global financial system and were not the fault of the Sudanese government: “we are seeing hardship all over the world; in Greece and even in the UK,” he said. “Both the government and the people of Sudan are victims of the international financial system that is biased towards developing countries. Those who are calling for strikes and civil disobedience without a proper programme in place to solve problems like Sudan’s $40billion dollar debt, who protest without offering alternatives, are calling for chaos.”
Last week Sudanese security forces arrested four prominent opposition figures including veteran politician Sadiq Youssef, a leader of the largest political coalition opposed to Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.