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Outrage in Sudan as official probe shields military leaders from massacre blame

Protests break out in Khartoum as investigation's findings, which puts death toll at 87 and hides identities of alleged perpetrators, are rejected
A protester gestures as he burns tyres during a demonstration against a report of the Attorney-General on the dissolution of the sit-in protest in Khartoum (Reuters)

An official investigation into the 3 June massacre in Khartoum has provoked outrage in Sudan and brought protesters to the streets, after it cleared the country's rulers of responsibility for an assault on a sit-in protest that killed scores.

In a news conference on Saturday, Fath al-Rahman Saeed, who led an investigation into the 3 June events and was tasked by the public prosecutor, said military officers were responsible for the deadly crackdown and did so without direction from generals in the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC).

The TMC, Saeed alleged, had not ordered the break-up of the sit-in, but only the dispersal of protesters and criminals from the largely lawless area nearby known as "Colombia".

Saeed said eight army officers have been charged and could face the death penalty for their involvement in the attack.

The head of the investigative committee said a brigadier general, referred to only as A.A.M., mobilised an anti-riot force on the orders of two senior officers, but not members of Sudan's top leadership.

A colonel was subsequently ordered to disperse the sit-in protest outside army headquarters, Saeed said.

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"They led the forces... inside the sit-in area and ordered them to get down from their vehicles and whip the protesters," Saeed told reporters.

Some security forces fired at protesters and three officers violated orders by moving forces into the sit-in, he said.

Saeed gave the ranks and initials of eight officers he said had been charged with crimes against humanity, which is punishable by death or life imprisonment under military law. He did not give their full names.

He also confirmed the involvement of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which is widely thought to have carried out the assault and is composed of the feared Janjaweed militias said to be responsible for a slew of human rights abuses in the country’s west and south.

Medics and protest groups have said 127 people were killed and some 400 wounded in the assault, with the health ministry putting the death toll at 61.

Saeed, however, said the investigation found that 87 people were killed and 168 wounded in the attack.

17 of those killed were in the square occupied by protesters and 48 of the wounded were hit by bullets, the committee head said.

Taking to the streets

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) protest movement and other opposition parties have rejected the report, saying it undermines justice and violates the agreement signed between the TMC and Forces of Freedom and Change opposition alliance last week.

The Sudanese Doctors Association, an opposition group of physicians, also rejected the investigation, describing the report as “fabricated” with nothing to do with the facts recorded by doctors and human rights groups.

'This committee is biased, it’s a unilateral committee formed by the TMC, so it will for sure bring results that cover up the crimes of the TMC general'

- Emad al-Amin, protester

Immediately after Saeed's news conference, thousands of people protested in the streets of Khartoum, including the residential areas of Burri, al-Daim, Arkaweet, al-Sahafa and al-Sitten Street.

The protesters chanted anti-TMC slogans, calling for justice. They closed off many main roads in the Sudanese capital, burning tyres and erecting barricades on the streets.

Emad al-Amin, a protester, told Middle East Eye that they will continue protesting to express their rejection of the committee's results.

“This committee is biased, it’s a unilateral committee formed by the TMC, so it will for sure bring results that cover up the crimes of the TMC generals,” he said.

Roaa Ahmed from the Burri neighbourhood told MEE that the main roads have been closed and the protesters are furious, especially the families of those killed on 3 June.

Awadallah Hassan, from the East Nile neighbourhood, said police have turned to violence in an attempt to quell the protests.

“Two protesters have been wounded in the East Nile area as the police used tear gas and sticks to disperse the protests," he said.

Ignoring evidence

One particular point of contention was Saeed's assertion that the committee had not uncovered any incidents of rape, although the US-based Physicians for Human Rights cited local medics as saying women had their clothes torn off and were raped.

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Activists say Sudanese women are reluctant to publicly say they were raped to avoid any social sigma.

The TMC, which took power when former President Omar al-Bashir was deposed in a military coup on 11 April, has previously denied any rape took place.

A leading member of the Sudanese Doctors' Association, Amged Farid, criticised the claim there was no evidence of rape, saying his group and various medical centres began treating cases soon after the crackdown began.

“This report really shames the Sudanese justice system and we believe that it will lead to more escalation in the streets. So we think that the only solution is the formation of an independent committee as agreed earlier by the TMC and the opposition,” he told MEE. 

The sit-in outside the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum was a focal point for protests that led to Bashir's ouster, and remained after the coup in an attempt to ensure the military hands power to a civilian administration.

"Some outlaws exploited this gathering and formed another gathering in what is known as the Colombia area, where negative and illegal practices took place," Saeed said.

"It became a security threat, forcing the authorities to make necessary arrangements to clear the area."

As Sudanese forces cleared the Nile-side area of Colombia days before the 3 June assault, protesters told Middle East Eye they feared the neighbourhood's louche reputation was being used as an excuse to begin clearing the larger sit-in protest nearby. Colombia was cleared two days before the assault on the sit-in outside the military headquarters.

Demonstrators burn tires in the middle of a main street in Khartoum as they protest against the results of the probe into the June raid on a Khartoum protest camp (AFP)
Demonstrators burn tires in the middle of a main street in Khartoum as they protest against the results of the probe into the June raid on a Khartoum protest camp (AFP)

"This report has shocked the Sudanese people and the international community, and proved that we need to reform the entire justice system in the country,” said Ismail al-Taj, an SPA spokesman.

South Sudan rebels

Amid the demonstrations, meanwhile, Sudanese generals and protest leaders who signed a power-sharing agreement held preliminary talks with rebel groups in neighbouring South Sudan on Saturday as part of ongoing peace efforts, AFP reported.

Among those at the meeting were rebel leaders Abdelaziz al-Hilu of South Kordofan state and Malik Agar of Blue Nile state.

The umbrella protest movement on 17 July signed a power-sharing accord with Sudan's generals, which provides for a transitional administration.