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Sudan investigator confirms detained teacher was beaten to death as protests rage on

Ahmed al-Kheir, who was accused of being a protest organiser, died due to injuries caused by a 'solid object,' medical report finds
Sudanese protesters take part in anti-government demonstration in Khartoum on 7 February (AFP)

A Sudanese investigator has confirmed that a teacher from the eastern state of Kassala was killed due to injuries caused by a "solid object" during government interrogations, as anti-government protests continue to rage in the country’s capital.

Government forces arrested Ahmed al-Kheir, 36, last week, alleging that he was "one of the protest organisers" in his local community, AFP reported.

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Amer Ibrahim, the head of a committee at the prosecutor's office investigating protest-related violence in Sudan, told reporters that Kheir had "died of wounds suffered on his body" while in detention.

"The cause of death is from various injuries to his body from a solid, flexible object, to his back, kidneys and thighs, and between his legs," he said.  

A regional police chief had initially said the teacher died of food poisoning. The medical report released on Thursday showed no toxins were found in the teacher's body, Ibrahim said.

The investigator said he has called on the head of the team in charge of arresting Kheir to bring forward the security agents who carried out the interrogation.

Protests in the capital

Meanwhile, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has led the protest movement since the unrest was sparked on 19 December, called for Thursday's demonstrations specifically in support of detainees who it says are being "tortured".

Hundreds of protesters rallied in Khartoum under the SPA call, according to AFP.

Protesters gathered in the downtown area of the capital, chanting their campaign's rallying cry of "freedom, peace, justice", witnesses told the news agency.

"Bring all your soldiers but today you will fall," chanted the protesters, witnesses said, adding that riot police swiftly confronted them with tear gas.

Protesters also staged rallies in the capital's eastern neighbourhood of Burri and some other areas of Khartoum, witnesses told AFP.

Video footage and photographs were swiftly uploaded on social media networks, some showing demonstrators being taken away by security agents.

While the chief of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), Salah Ghosh, ordered the release of all detainees late last month, it is unclear how many have been freed.

According to government figures, at least 30 people have been killed and more than 400 injured so far in the near-daily protests, while more than 800 people have been arrested. Human Rights Watch said on 1 February that at least 51 protesters had been shot dead.

Outrage over so-called ‘public order law’

The latest protest came after President Omar al-Bashir acknowledged that youths, mainly women, were leading the rallies and said the public order law was "one of the reasons" for their anger, along with growing economic hardships.

Backtracking on Thursday, Bashir said that "enemies of Sudan" were funding a media campaign backing the demonstrators.

Activists say the decades-old public order law targets mainly women, often accusing them of "indecent dressing and immoral behaviour".

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Hefty punishments including fines and jail terms are imposed on women found guilty under the legislation.

According to some Sudanese women's rights groups, more than 15,000 women were sentenced to flogging in 2016.

Protests first broke out in Sudan seven weeks ago, after a government decision to raise the price of bread.

They quickly turned into nationwide rallies against Bashir's three-decade-old rule, with crowds calling for his resignation.

Protesters out on the streets insist they are seeking a complete change in the country.

"It's not only the public order law that we are against," Tahani, a female demonstrator who asked not to be fully identified, told AFP.

Why are Sudanese protesting against their government?

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Hundreds of people have been taking to the streets of a series of towns and cities in Sudan since 19 December 2018 to protest a government decision to remove subsidies on wheat and electricity.

Sudan's economy has been struggling over the past decade with inflation spiking to around 70 percent over the past year alone.

This has caused the price of bread to double, cash shortages and salaries left unpaid. The austerity measures adopted by the government are part of larger economic reforms proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The mobilisation on the ground against the price hikes - organised by a group known as the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) - found almost immediate resonance among opposition leaders, youth and women movements and rapidly turned into a larger show of discontent with 75-year-old President Omar al-Bashir. 

Protesters have been reportedly chanting "freedom, peace, justice” and “revolution is the people’s choice” as they march through the streets of the capital, Khartoum.

Sudan's armed forces have responded to protesters with tear gas and at times, live ammunition, mowing down at least 30 people, according to government figures.

Human Rights Watch, the international rights watchdog, says the death toll is closer to 51.

The protests have energised the Sudanese diaspora culminating in the biggest ever challenge to Bashir's rule since he took over the country in 1989.

"Once we overthrow the regime, we will change the old laws completely with new laws that respect the dignity and diversity of the Sudanese people."

Bashir and other senior Sudanese officials have repeatedly said the government can only be changed through elections.

The veteran leader, who came to power in a coup in 1989, is considering running for a third presidential term in a vote expected to take place next year.