A Sudanese opposition leader has criticized the lack of political and press freedoms in his country as Sudan celebrates its 59th independence anniversary Thursday.
Hassan Osman Rizig, deputy president of the opposition Reform Now Movement party, said he is disappointed that President Omar al-Bashir did not announce the release of political detainees as a positive gesture toward national reconciliation.
In his pre-independence day speech Wednesday, President Bashir announced that presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2015 will go ahead as planned to maintain what he called the country’s “integrity and stability”.
But opposition leader Rizig said his party will not take part in any election, particularly when the ruling National Congress Party controls everything.
“It is impossible for any political party to run for any election because everything [in the country] is overwhelmed by the ruling party. They are ruling all the security forces, the armed forces, and the economy. There is no way to compete with them,” Rizig said.
He said the Sudanese people have nothing to celebrate on Independence Day.
“As Sudanese, we are always glad to celebrate Independence Day. But independence is not just the waving of flags or to celebrate the withdrawal of the colonial army from Sudan. We just exchanged foreign rulers with another ruler. There is no democracy, there is no freedom. There are many political detainees in Sudan,” he said.
In January 2013, President Bashir launched the National Dialogue initiative to bring stakeholders in the country together to discuss political freedom and other issues, including ending the country’s civil war.
Rizig, who is a member of the National Dialogue Committee, said President Bashir has ignored the advice of the committee which includes freeing political prisoners.
“We signed a roadmap with the government about what we called the National Dialogue. The government signed this paper, but they didn’t do anything. Now we have many Sudanese in prison. There is confiscation of newspapers. There is no freedom in Sudan. Even the speech delivered by the president, there is nothing in it,” Rizig said.
The Sudan opposition parties and the U.N. Human Rights office have all criticized Khartoum for the arrests earlier in December of a number of opposition politicians.
But Sudan information minister Ahmed Bilal told VOA those arrested refused to join the national dialogue.
He said they went to Addis Ababa to convince the rebels to topple the regime, not through dialogue but through resistance and war.
Bilal said President Bashir is opened to releasing political prisoners if and when the 7+7 National Dialogue Committee recommends it to him.
Rizig said the committee recommended many times to President Bashir to release all political detainees.
“We said that if you release the political detainees, that will help us to bring the armed forces (the rebels) from outside to join the national dialogue. But he didn’t do that. If he released one, he captured three or five. Now there are about more than 60 political detainees in the prisons of Sudan,” Rizig said.
He added that the National Dialogue Committee has recommended a national unity government before the election.
“We said first, before election let us have a new government, a government that commands the respect of all Sudanese. We can’t have a free and fair election with this government organizing and participating in the election at the same time,” Rizig said.