Rudwan Dawod, a Sudanese man from Darfur, has returned to the west coast of the United States to reunite with his pregnant American wife after he was detained and reportedly tortured in a Khartoum prison for more than six weeks. Dawod was arrested in July for his role in protests against the Sudanese government.
Before he caught an early morning flight to Oregon, Dawod spoke to friends and officials at a public event at the Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C. think tank.
"I’m really happy to be back home, safe, sound, and still alive," he said.
Dawod, who is Muslim, had been in South Sudan to help re-build a Catholic church. The project, organized by a nonprofit group, Sudan Sunrise, is part of a mission to encourage reconciliation after decades of civil war and an eventual split between northern and southern Sudan.
During a break in the project in June, Dawod travelled to Khartoum to visit his family. At that time, daily anti-government protests were being held around the country. Although he had not planned on joining the protests, Dawod changed his mind and helped organize a demonstration.
He said that on the night of July 3 he was at his family’s house meeting with other protestors, planning what he said was to be a non-violent demonstration that evening, when authorities entered the house.
“They arrested me and two other activists two hours before we start. I don’t want to really talk too much about how they have beaten me, how they tortured even my dad, how they have beaten my younger brother. And then they separated me from the other activists. They took me to the NSS [National Security Service] office. They treated me very bad. They tortured me everywhere. They accused me of being a spy for the U.S. and also for South Sudan. They also said Sudan Sunrise is a spy group and Girifna movement is a terrorist group.”
Girifna, which means “we’re fed up” in Arabic, is a self-described non-violent group that opposes the Khartoum government. Dawod is a founding member of the group.
He was held for over six weeks. In a series of trials, the charges against him grew increasingly serious, including a charge of terrorism, for which Dawod faced the death penalty.
Fortunately for Dawod, those charges were dropped. He was eventually released on the conditions that he would never return to Sudan or engage in any political or humanitarian work.
Dawod said he conceded to leave Sudan not because he was scared, but because so many people at Sudan Sunrise, Girifna, and other international organizations had intervened on his behalf.
Nasr Eldin Ahmed, second secretary for the Embassy of Sudan, does not accept Dawod’s account of events - that he was unjustly imprisoned, then released because of international attention.
“He’s broken the law," said Ahmed. "And also he has been freed according to the judicial directive, not according to any pressure from outside.”
Ahmed also expressed doubt about Dawod’s description of his treatment in prison. “If he says that, he cannot prove it," he said.
Ahmed's argument was not persuasive to one of Dawod’s Girifna colleagues. Sudanese activist Azaz Shami said that if anything, Dawod’s arrest has re-doubled the group’s resolve. She said his treatment shows the power of the government security forces even over the judicial system.
“If there’s anything I learned from this experience, it’s that there’s no way for us to have a real country unless this government is gone,” Shami said.
Dawod himself said he is undeterred from his mission to participate in reconciliation projects between Sudan and South Sudan, and to do what he can to encourage the release of other prisoners in Sudan. Even though the Sudanese government released many of them around Eid-al-Fitr, the Islamic holiday marking the end of Ramadan, Dawod said too many political activists remain behind bars.