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African Union Summit Marred by Security Crackdown


Security is tight in the Sudanese capital city of Khartoum, as the nation prepares for the African Union Summit, set to begin on Monday. On the eve of the summit, participants in a human rights meeting were detained and some beaten, by plainclothes Sudanese security forces. No reason was given for the detention and detained activists say the meeting was approved by the Sudanese government.

Sudanese security forces stormed a human rights meeting in Khartoum on Sunday evening, detaining at least thirty people and confiscating laptop computers and personal belongings. Sudanese and European lawyers and rights activists were held for nearly four hours. Participants later reported that some were beaten.

A small crowd of onlookers kept vigil outside of the meeting hall. Journalists and colleagues of the detained participants were repeatedly pushed back by plainclothes Sudanese security. Upon their release, furious participants railed against security forces.

"After we finished the session they attacked us," said Ali Mohamed Ali, a Khartoum-based human rights lawyer and one of the meeting's organizers. "They rushed inside the room of the conference, without saying any justification for this and they confiscated the laptops, any electronic devices. After four hours, now they released us without saying any justification for this confinement."

A man identifying himself as a Sudanese security official later told onlookers that the Sudan government was simply trying to prevent crowds from forming.

The government has repeatedly been accused of human rights abuses including torture and illegal detention by rights organizations worldwide.

A Darfuri activist who would identify himself only as Taj, for fear of retribution by the Sudan government, said the detention was typical behavior by national security.

"What happened here is just one tenth, one hundredth of what is going on in Darfur. Nobody was killed. It was torture. It was a bad incident from security. But what this government is doing to us in Darfur, this is nothing," he said.

European citizens from Amnesty International, the International Bar Association and the European Commission were detained along with Sudanese.

Members of those groups say there was no reason for the detention

Theo Murphy, a researcher with Amnesty International, says restrictions on public meetings have been relaxed since the signing of a peace agreement that ended Sudan's civil war one year ago.

"Its absolutely not an illegal meeting," he noted. "With the interim constitution that lifted the state of emergency there is no such thing as an illegal meeting anymore. And furthermore, we were invited here by the government. We were given permission to come and attend this meeting."

The Sudan government released no official statement on the detention, but Sudan Parliament Member Ghazi Suleiman, told VOA that security is tight because of the African Union summit.

The AU summit, which begins on Monday, has been marred by debate over who will assume the chairmanship. Traditionally the summit's host nation chairs the summit. But rights groups have complained that Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir should not assume the post due to his government's rights record in the war-torn Darfur region.