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Sudan appeals court throws out jail terms for some anti-government protesters

Activists had been sentenced last week to between six months and five years by special emergency courts
Anti-government protests have been held across Sudan since 19 December (AFP/File photo)

An appeals court in Sudan has overturned jail terms handed down to eight anti-government protesters last week, AFP reported, as demonstrations continued in the capital Khartoum against Omar al-Bashir's rule.

The eight protesters had been sentenced last week to between six months and five years in jail by emergency courts, established following Bashir's decision last month to impose a one-year state of emergency across the country.

The protesters had been arrested for participating in anti-government rallies in Khartoum, AFP reported, and their sentences were the first handed out by the special courts.

"The appeals court dismissed the charges against these people who had been sentenced on February 28," defence lawyer Enaam Atieg, a member of a lawyers' association that is part of the umbrella group spearheading the protests, told the news agency.

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"The appeals court has ordered their release," she said.

Hundreds of protesters have already had hearings in the special emergency courts, MEE reported last week.

Opposition activists and relatives of the activists being tried have accused Bashir of using the emergency laws and special courts as a way to put pressure on people involved in protest movement.

Sudan has seen frequent, large-scale demonstrations since mid-December. While the rallies first began in anger over a rising cost of bread, they have since grown into a nationwide, grassroots movement calling for Bashir to step down.

The Sudanese president has so far resisted that demand, insisting that political change can only come through the ballot box.

Late last month, Bashir instituted a one-year state of emergency across Sudan and disbanded the country's central government. He then appointed a new prime minister and vice president, and handed the leadership of his ruling party to his deputy, Ahmed Harun.

Bashir has also banned all unauthorised rallies and given sweeping powers to security forces to carry out raids and personal searches.

Protests continue

Despite these attempts to quell the protests, however, rallies against his government have continued.

On Thursday, hundreds of people protested in areas of Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman, AFP and Reuters news agencies reported, citing witnesses.

"Women are leading the rallies today, but security agents are arresting protesters in big numbers," a witness told AFP.

Other witnesses cited by Reuters said police were rounding up protesters using batons and sending them to trial in the emergency courts, rather than dispersing them with tear gas as had been done previously.

For his part, Bashir held a meeting with political groups close to his ruling National Congress Party.

"We discussed with president Bashir the importance of preparing an atmosphere for a dialogue by releasing political detainees," said Bahar Idris, a leader of a group close to the NCP, as reported by AFP.