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NGO Accuses Sudan of Silencing Independent Voices

  • James Butty

An official of a Sudanese independent civil society organization has said his group will use legal means, including protest, to force the government to halt attacks on non-governmental organizations, or NGOs.

Khartoum shut down four rights groups last month and revoked the registration of the Al-Khatim Adlan Center for Enlightenment and Human Development, or KACE.

A ruling party official reportedly said that NGOs are free to operate, as long as they do not follow a “political agenda.”

Al-Baqir Mukhtar, director of KACE, said his group filed a legal petition Wednesday with the Sudan Human Rights Commission because all independent civil society groups in Sudan feel they are under attack.

Mukhtar said the government shut down his organization without prior notice.

“On the 31st of December, at about mid-day, a delegation of people from the Humanitarian Affairs [Aid] Commission, known also as HAC, without any prior notice, wanted to see me, and when I received them, they immediately showed me a letter. The letter simply said that the head of the national NGO within the commission decided to cancel your registration as an organization and to strike you off the register of organizations that are allowed to work in Sudan,” he said.

Mukhtar said the officials also asked him to surrender the keys to his office along with all equipment without giving any reason for their action. He said his office is now being guarded by security personnel from the national intelligence agency.

Mukhtar said he is not allowed to enter his office unless accompanied by officials from the Humanitarian Affairs Aid Commission. He said the government’s action is part of a plan to silence independent voices.

“They don’t want anybody who will find a venue and the forum to tell truth to power. The civil society is the only body that is doing this job because the media is totally under the control of the government,” Mukhtar said.

Mukhtar said another reason for crackdown is the government’s view that such civil society groups are a voice of the West.

He denied claims by the government that independent NGOs have a “political agenda.”

“We don’t follow any political agenda. If you speak about democracy, if you speak about peace, is that political agenda? We are civil society. We speak about cultural reforms; we speak about educational reform; we speak about peace through non-violence. If they consider this political, then they are wrong,” Mukhtar said.

Mukhtar said the government allegation that KACE has been receiving foreign donations without permission was made without clarity.

“The government said that, but the government does not give any guideline as to how you get this approval. Is it before we apply for the funds, or is it after we applied and get the approval from the donor?” Mukhtar said.

He said civil society groups filed a lawsuit in 2006 against the government’s demand for approval before receiving any foreign donations, and that the suit has yet to be decided.

Mukhtar said top Sudanese lawyers have offered their services to KACE to challenge the government’s decision to revoke the group’s registration as an NGO.

“All the top lawyers of Sudan came to our support, and they already prepared the petition and they handed it this [Wednesday] morning to the commissioner. So, we are going to follow the legal path until the constitutional court and, at the same time, we are going to campaign against this by a series of protests, memos and sit-ins until this decision is changed,” Mukhtar said.