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On 28 March 2016, two members of the Our Rights Group, a Sudanese civil society coalition, were prevented from traveling from Sudan to Geneva, where they were due to participate in meetings related to the UN's review of Sudan's human rights record, a process that is explicitly supposed to include contributions from independent civil society. Sudan's examination under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is scheduled for May 2016. The human rights defenders were informed by security agents at Khartoum International Airport that they have been placed under a travel ban, and their passports were confiscated.
Our Rights Group is a coalition of Sudanese civil society organisations which recently submitted its report on the human rights situation in Sudan to the UN as part of the UPR process. The coalition includes, among others, the Asmaa Society for Development, which aims to raise awareness about gender equality in Sudan through working on women's capacity building and contributing effectively to democratic transformation in Sudan, the Human Rights and Legal Aid Network (HRLAN), and the Sudanese Solidarity Committee, which works on representing the families of victims of the 2013 protests, in which more than 700 people were killed after calling for a democratic change in the country.
Early on 28 March 2016, an officer from the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), dressed in plain-clothes, prevented Ms Sawsan Hassan Elshowaya the Director of the Asmaa Society for Development and Dr Muawia Shaddad the President of HRLAN from traveling to Geneva from Khartoum International Airport to take part in meetings in preparation for the UPR examination. After having checked in their luggage and presented their passports at the immigration desk, they were stopped and informed of travel bans in place against them. Their passports were confiscated and they were asked to report to the Information and Inquiry section at the NISS headquarters for further information.
Previously, on 25 March 2016, journalist and human rights defender Mr Faisal Mohamed Salih was prevented from traveling from Khartoum International Airport to London by the NISS. His passport was confiscated without any information being provided as to whether it shall be returned to him. Faisal has extensively written about the human rights abuses and government repression in Sudan, and also works on the promotion of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
On 23 March 2016, Mr Siddig Yousif the President of the Sudanese Solidarity Committee was also prevented by the NISS from traveling from Khartoum International Airport to Geneva, and his passport was confiscated. He had not been previously notified of the travel ban against him. When he subsequently visited the Information and Inquiry section at NISS headquarters, he was not given any information about the travel ban or his passport. This is the fourth occasion on which the President of the Committee has been subjected to a travel ban.
Human rights defenders in Sudan have recently faced harassment and been subjected to intimidation by the NISS. In mid-March, passports of staff members of the Khartoum Centre for Training and Human Development (TRACKS), as well as those of visitors to the Centre, were confiscated by the NISS after a raid on the TRACKS office.
I express strong concern for the imposing of travel bans against human rights defenders in Sudan, and the seizing of their passports, as I believe these acts to be directly motivated by their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.
I urge the authorities in the Republic of the Sudan to:
- Immediately lift the travel bans imposed against all of the above-mentioned human rights defenders, return their passports to them, and refrain from any future harassment of them, as Front Line Defenders believes that it is being targeted solely as a result of its legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;
- Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the Republic of the Sudan are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.