Harsh repression as bread riots rock Sudan

Sudanese authorities on Jan. 7 carried out mass arrests and confiscated newspapers as protests exploded over rising bread prices and severe economic austerity. One student was killed amid demonstrations in Geneina, capital of West Darfur state. Protests were also reported from the cities of Nyala, South Darfur; al-Damazin, Blue Nile atate; and the capital Khartoum. The unrest broke out as bakeries doubled the price of bread following a government decision to increase the price of flour nearly fourfold. The decision was part of a package of austerity measures issued by the Sudanese government under the country's 2018 budget, seeking to address the spiralling inflation rate, currently at about 25%.

Opposition leaders were arrested after they issued statements in support of the protests. Omer al-Digair, chair of the Sudanese Congress Party (SCoP), was arrested in North Kordofan state. The SCoP said the former chair of the party Ibrahim al-Shaikh and the human rights secretary Jalal Mustafa were also detained. The statement said that the detention of party leaders would "neither resolve the regime's crises nor would it alleviate the mass pressure against the government failure to provide the basic needs."

Meanwhile, agents of the National Intelligence & Security Service (NISS) on the morning of Jan. 6 seized all copies of six newspapers from the printing presses, without stating reasons. The seized newspapers included al-Tayyar, al-Mustaqilla, al-Saiha, al-Qarar, as well as the SCoP's Akhbar al-Watan and the Sudanese Communist Party paper al-Midan.

The Reform Now Movement (RNM), led by Ghazi Salah al-Din, criticized the newspaper seizures. In a statement, the RNM described the NISS action as an attempt to cover up the "economic disaster that has plagued the country as a result of irresponsible government policies." It added that the NISS actions are against "all heavenly laws, international and human rights laws and the outcome of the national dialogue." It further demanded the immediate release of all political detainees, including the SCoP leaders.

Amnesty International warned of the danger of further escalation, recalling that that up to 185 people were killed in the 2013 uprising, when thousands took to the streets in demonstrations against fuel price increases. (Sudan Tribune, Al Jazeera, Reuters)