Sudan detains opposition leader in crackdown
KHARTOUM — Sudanese security services on Thursday briefly detained prominent government critic Mariam al-Mahdi, who had joined a group of women activists demanding the release of dozens of protesters arrested last month.
Security officers took Mahdi, the daughter of ousted former prime minister Sadeq al-Mahdi, and seven other women in the group as they arrived at Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) headquarters to petition for the protesters' release, a member of her Umma party said.
"The minute we stepped out of the car they arrested her," said Habab Mubarak, the daughter of another leading Umma party figure, Mubarak al-Fadil.
"They also violently grabbed the placards that we had in the back of the car showing pictures of those people who were detained on January 30," Mubarak told AFP.
She said all the detained women were driven around the city for several hours and then dropped "in the middle of nowhere."
Around 30 women, among them the mothers of those still in custody following anti-government demonstrations last month, had earlier set off from Fadil's home for the NISS headquarters, amid a heavy security presence, to present their petition to security chief Mohammed Atta.
Riot police trucks followed them to the security building, where Mubarak's mother and two other women handed the petition to Atta's secretary, demanding that those in custody be formally tried or released.
"If nothing happens we will be back on Saturday... There are 40 people being held in one small storage room, with poor ventilation," she said.
Thursday's confrontation comes amid a wider crackdown on opposition activity, and coincides with the mass protests rocking the regime of President Hosni Mubarak in neighbouring Egypt.
A spate of localised but vocal anti-government protests broke out in Khartoum and other northern cities in north Sudan at the end of January, organised by student activists via the Internet.
The demonstrators demanded a change of regime, civil liberties and an end to debilitating price rises.
Police used tear gas and batons to disperse them and arrested more than 100.
Also in January, security police arrested Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi shortly after he said in an AFP interview that a popular revolt like the one that ousted veteran Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was likely in north Sudan as the south voted for independence.
Last week, Human Rights Watch said the arrest of 16 people outside the communist party headquarters on February 2 was part of a pattern of repression.
"This fits in with the restrictions on the freedom of expression in Sudan, and the continued use of the national security apparatus, which has a long history of ill-treatment and torture, to detain journalists and activists," HRW's head of research on Sudan, Jehanne Henry, said.