18 September 2020

A Sudanese court charged five artists with a two-month prison sentence and a fine of 5,000 Sudanese Pounds (roughly US$ 90) for allegedly creating a “public disturbance” and “public safety”, with six others expected to face similar charges on Sunday. The ruling has triggered consternation within the Sudanese public, who consider these charges influenced by elements from the former regime.

Hajooj Kuka giving a presentation on the role of arts in producing democratic change (social media)
Hajooj Kuka giving a presentation on the role of arts in producing democratic change (social media)

Khartoum Central Criminal Judge Omar Abdel Hamid sentenced: Duaa Tarig, Hajooj Kuka, Abdel Rahman, Ayman Khalaf and Ahmed Elsadig under Articles 67 and 77 of the Sudanese Criminal Code related to breaches of peace and security on Thursday. The five are currently in Omdurman Prison and will serve another month if their fines are not paid, defence lawyer Ahmed Sabir said. Sabir told Ayin the court is expected to sentence six others on Sunday with the same verdict. “The ruling issued against the accused is harsh and disproportionate to the offence,” Sabir said, adding that an appeal will also be submitted on Sunday.

The sentences stem from a police raid on 10 August at roughly 5 pm at a cultural centre in the Al-Zuhour neighbourhood in Khartoum, where several people were detained during a rehearsal for a theatre performance. The police were responding to a noise complaint by neighbours.

According to eyewitnesses and colleagues to the artists, the neighbours to the cultural centre are fundamentalists and members of the former ruling National Congress Party (NCP) who generally reject the presence of the progressive artists’ collective.

Police arrested 11 individuals at the centre, tied their hands and allowed neighbourhood residents to beat them with sticks, the same sources told Ayin. Once at the police station, they were denied treatment for injuries incurred.

Duaa Tarig (social media)
Duaa Tarig (social media)

An investigator, Al Safi Mahdi, took a photo without the consent of one of the artists and program manager at the cultural centre, Duaa Tarig, using his private phone, according to a statement from the women’s advocacy organisation, the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA). Al Safi Mahdi slapped Tarig repeatedly until she fainted in the police station for protesting the photo being taken, SIHA reported. Attempts to prosecute Mahdi since this attack have been routinely delayed, according to SIHA and Tarig’s colleagues.

“It is a clear message from the Islamist groups to the civilian-led government that Islamist ideology is still in control of the judiciary and law enforcement apparatuses of the Sudanese state,” SIHA said in a statement. “SIHA Network demands the immediate release of the artists through the engagement of higher levels of the judiciary and following legal processes with full due diligence.”

Hajooj Kuka, an award winning filmmaker (social media)
Hajooj Kuka, an award-winning filmmaker (social media)

One of the five sentenced is Hajooj Mohamed, better known as Hajooj Kuka, is an award-winning filmmaker who has filmed and produced two films in the Nuba Mountains, including Beats of the Antonov and aKasha. Through his activism, particularly working with Sudanese youth in the arts, Kuka was listed in Foreign Policy magazine as one of the Leading Global Thinkers in 2014 in the Chroniclers category.