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'The martyr at the barricades': The life and death of one Sudanese protester

Abbas Farah was among scores killed by security forces in Khartoum one month ago. Using footage of the day, MEE tells the story of the young man's final moments
Abbas Farah was one of more than 100 estimated killed as Sudanese forces cracked down on protesters

With blood seeping through his yellow shirt, Abbas Farah stumbled with heavy, halting steps towards a barricade. Then he collapsed.

In the first hours of the deadly attack by Sudan’s forces on a peaceful sit-in last month, the image of Farah, somehow still standing after being shot in the stomach, was one of the first and most powerful to emerge of the resistance Sudanese protesters were putting up against the heavily armed military council ruling over them.

Farah later died from his injuries, becoming one of more than 100 killed on 3 June. Through videos and images that have trickled onto social media in the month since then, despite an internet blackout, and by interviewing those who knew him, it is now possible to tell the story of the final hours of Farah's life and how the sit-in he was defending was bloodily dispersed.

'A revolution of ideas'

A 28-year-old engineering graduate, it did not take long for Farah to buy into the uprising that started with economic protests in December 2018, but quickly morphed into opposition to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's 30-year rule, the only leader of the country he had ever known.

He spoke to friends and posted philosophically on Facebook about it, describing it as a “revolution of ideas” that had to work “for all Sudanese,” including those marginalised under Bashir’s rule.  

Abbas Farah
Abbas Farah at the Khartoum sit-in

He was also out on the streets himself, long before protesters escalated their campaign with a sit-in on 6 April that took only days to bring down Bashir.

A former neighbour of his told Middle East Eye that one day in March they were filming from their rooftop while protesters were being chased by Sudan’s notorious National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) when they saw Farah running from the security officers. 

They described Farah as someone who was always happy and welcoming to others around him.

"I moved to the neighbourhood we shared in 2007. He was the first person from the block to ask me to join them for a football match and introduced me to everyone and always made sure I was comfortable as a new kid in the block," they said.

When the sit-in started, Farah became a devoted attendee, first protesting against Bashir and then against the military council that replaced him.

“The blood of the martyrs and the establishment of rights is more important than the treasures of the earth,” he wrote on Facebook.

The dispersal

For almost two months, the sit-in at the heart of Khartoum had become almost celebratory. Though it had come under attack from military forces and militias on several occasions, its jubilant atmosphere encouraged families to happily join the protest with their children.

But the sit-in was abruptly and violently dispersed early on the morning of 3 June when Sudanese forces stormed into the camp, firing live ammunition and burning tents, and raping women according to activists' accounts.

The attack was widely blamed on the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia force controlled by Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, the deputy head of the transitional military council known as Hemeti. Footage of the crackdown showed men in RSF uniforms and vehicles taking part, as well as some wearing the uniforms of other branches of the Sudanese security forces. 

On social media, a live stream capturing the firing on protesters turned to Farah, stumbling painfully in the opposite direction of the other protesters, who were running to confront the militia fighters firing at them.

The person filming grabbed Farah's wrist as he slumped down onto the barricade and called for others to come and take the injured youth. As they carry him away, the sound of bullets crackles in the background. 

“I was seriously shocked when I saw the video of Abbas’s death and I felt such strong grief,” Farah’s childhood friend Raheeg Omar, who lives outside Sudan, told MEE. She said she saw the video several hours after the attack. 

“It truly was a massacre on unarmed citizens. They weren’t carrying weapons. They were demanding their most basic rights.”

The video was taken from Nile Street, where the military claim it had only cleared an area outside the sit-in, but videos that have emerged appear to show a build-up of forces and attacks on protesters inside the site. 

Ths Sudanese Doctors’ Committee, a protester-aligned network of doctors, said at least 100 were killed at the sit-in but the number could be higher because many could not be evacuated after the crackdown and many bodies were thrown into the Nile. 

The hospital

At least 500 injured people were treated at Khartoum’s overloaded hospitals as a result of the attack, according to the doctors. Most suffered bullet wounds but some had bones broken after being beaten with brute force and others were stabbed. 

A video that emerged weeks later showed Farah being hauled out of a car arriving at Royal Care hospital, near the sit-in, almost completely limp. He is then laid onto a piece of wire railing ripped from the ground as a makeshift stretcher and carried into the hospital.

A photo from inside the hospital shows the same wire railing on the hospital’s floor, Farah still lying on it with his bloodied yellow shirt lifted up above his chest and a drip connected to his arm as three doctors try to save him. 

In the meantime, the hospital itself was besieged by RSF forces, who allegedly attacked doctors and stopped the entry of paramedics and supplies.

A doctor trying to reach hospitals to volunteer told MEE on the day that RSF fighters were stopping and threatening to arrest doctors who tried to help.

According to friends, Abbas died after bullets hit his lungs and kidney. Doctors were unable to save him. 

A video from his inside the hospital shows his mother standing over his body, repeatedly crying his name and pressing her head onto his chest.

March of the Martyrs

In the hours after the camp was destroyed, the RSF spread throughout Khartoum, forcing protesters into their homes, dismantling barricades and pulling passers-by from their cars, creating a widespread sense of fear throughout Khartoum for several days. 

But within two weeks the protests were growing again, with people taking to the streets all over Sudan despite the threat of violence. The neighbourhood resistance committee, groups set up by protesters to organise their local activity, started a march towards Farah's home to pass their condolences to his family. 

"The blood of the martyr is my blood, the mother of the martyr is my mother," they chanted. 

Translation: the mother of the martyr Abbas Farah with the procession of the Arkweet resistance committees today

On 30 June, protest leaders called for a “march of millions” that brought out massive crowds around the country despite blocks on them marching to key government and military sites to protest. Their gathering points were the homes of killed protesters.

"Words cannot explain the amount of pain I have inside," said Farah's old neighbour.  

"All that is keeping me going is that the fight isn’t over and I have to convert all of this negativity into positivity until we all celebrate our victory soon and retaliate with peace and justice for all our martyrs."