Since Sudan’s October 25, 2021 coup, the putschists have portrayed a non-violent protest movement as a threat to peace and security in order to justify repression against civilians, both to their own rank-and-file and to the global community.
As part of that strategy, the junta has accused teenagers and young men from humble backgrounds of murdering security forces. Those facing such grave criminal charges have been subjected to enforced disappearance, denied due process, and in some cases tortured. However, Western officials have stayed mostly mum about their ordeals.
One of the most renowned defendants is 17-year-old Mohamad Adam, who is better known as Tupac by his family and peers. On January 15, 2022, security forces abducted him from a hospital in the capital of Khartoum, where he was recuperating from wounds sustained in anti-coup protests.
Adam soon found out that he was one of four boys accused of killing a senior police officer, along with Mohamad Al-Fateh, Ahmed Al-Fateh, and Musab Al-Sherif. A doctor and activist, Zeinab Al-Amin, was later included in the case under charges of “inciting violence” against security forces. Like the other defendants, Adam’s lawyer said that he was held in incommunicado detention for three weeks where he was mostly questioned about the funding behind the protests and his involvement in a protest group called Ghadiboun—meaning ‘the angered people.’
Adam did not cooperate in outing his peers or his friends, so security forces tortured him into confessing that he killed a senior police officer. According to his lawyer and mother, whom I met during my last trip to Sudan, prison guards hammered nails into his ankle, tied him upside down, and burned him with cigarettes. Adam was also denied medical treatment.
News of the torture triggered an outcry among the country’s pro-democracy movement, which views Adam as resembling young men and boys from their own communities, not a high-profile activist or a politician.
That was made clear when, at the start of the trial in May, lawyers, activists, and other protestors gathered outside the courtroom to demand that Adam and the other defendants be promptly released. The UN Mission in Sudan, the European Union and the Troika—the US, UK, and Norway—failed to amplify their calls and instead welcomed the lifting of the state of emergency which occurred on the same day. The EU and UN claimed that the move was a “positive first step” in creating a conducive environment for dialogue between civilian forces and the military—a framework that protesters reject.
The EU statement also stressed the need for Sudanese authorities to uphold due process for all those facing criminal charges. But Adam’s trial clearly lacks due process, according to activists and rights groups. While preparing for trial, defense attorneys did not even have access to incriminating evidence. Rights groups and Sudanese lawyers deem this a clear violation undermining the right to a free trial. Many protesters also interpreted the global community’s curious silence on Adam’s case as evidence that they prioritize the release of high-profile detainees, who can accelerate a political deal with the junta, over protecting the human rights of everyday people. Whether true or not, the optics did not look good.
The EU, the UN Mission in Sudan, and the Troika should publicly pressure the junta to drop all charges against those who have been unlawfully arrested, charged, and denied due process since the coup. That includes condemning sham trials, which are upending the lives of young people who do not have high-profile friends among Sudanese elites or Western officials to lobby on their behalf.
By failing to take a stand, the global community is effectively granting the junta total impunity to jail and possibly sentence protesters, violating their own legal procedures and international obligations. The junta has already taken concrete steps to undermine the integrity of its judiciary by restoring a number of Islamists loyal to the former regime of Omar al-Bashir to influential posts on the state and federal levels. These positions were not allocated based on capability, but given in exchange for political support for the coup.
While Sudanese lawyers told me that the judge presiding over Adam’s trial has a good reputation, the arrest and treatment of the defendants violate international treaties that Sudan has ratified. These include the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). In fact, Article 15 of UNCAT clearly states that any statements extracted by torture should not be used as evidence in the court of law, except to incriminate the person accused of torture.
Adam’s defense attorneys argued the same point when the trial commenced. Although Sudan’s own domestic law—particularly the Evidence Act—does not provide the same protections as UNCAT, the judge ordered a medical committee to examine Adam to verify his torture claims and then write a report which is supposed to be handed to the judge. However, the trial was adjourned indefinitely on June 23 after the prosecution appealed the court’s decision to grant the defense access to incriminating evidence. Adam’s defense lawyer also said that she fears that the putschists could tamper with the medical report’s findings, but she is hoping for the best. It is not possible to ensure that legal and medical procedures are properly followed and that trials are conducted fairly—a right that Sudan is obligated to protect after ratifying the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights in 1986.
Adam’s case is not the only one. Three other young men were charged with conspiring to murder a military intelligence officer. Like Adam, the defendants in that case were abducted and tortured according to their lawyers. Momen Said, who is one of the defendants, had been denied urgent medical treatment since March before being finally released on bail on June 12.
The global community must recognize that these trials are political, and not rooted in a genuine pursuit of justice. No security officers have been held accountable for the death of more than 100 anti-coup protesters, despite the junta’s countless promises to conduct internal investigations.
By lobbying for the release of the young men on trial, the global community would send a powerful message to protesters. They would signal that they recognize that the protest movement is non-violent, the judicial system compromised, and that the trials aim to punish youth for defying the October 25, 2021 coup.
But standing up for protesters must be part of a broader policy pivot. Western powers need to genuinely support the demands of the pro-democracy movement, not just their right to assemble. This involves ceasing their attempt to broker a top-down political deal between elite civilian politicians and the junta. Without popular support, such a deal would strike a death blow to the credibility of the global community in the eyes of the Sudanese street. It could also legitimize a violent crackdown against protesters that oppose the deal.
A more imaginative approach grounded in supporting bottom-up politics, human rights, and the rule of law is needed. After months of applauding protesters for facing down a coup, it is high time that Western officials show a little courage of their own.
Mat Nashed is a journalist and analyst specializing in the Middle East and North Africa.