NAIROBI — People in Sudan are living in fear of further violence after a brutal military crackdown shattered peace talks this week.
A government blackout on almost all internet and phone services has made getting information out of Sudan difficult, but Sudanese people in the diaspora told BuzzFeed News their relatives were going as far as sleeping under their beds, worried that state security forces could break into their homes at night.
The deadliest week the country has seen since protesters took to the streets last December has resulted in more than 100 deaths and 600 injuries, a representative of the UK-based Sudan Doctors Union — which is linked to the protesters — told BuzzFeed News in an email. The representative added that at least 120 people are missing.
The number is much higher than the count given by the Sudanese health ministry, still controlled by the military, which said Thursday that 61 people had died. It also far exceeds the estimated 70 protesters Human Rights Watch said had been killed in protests between December and April.
Things had been relatively calm in Sudan in the weeks since President Omar al-Bashir was forced from power and arrested by the military in April, following months of mass protests. That began a period of uneasy talks between the military and demonstrators, who demanded a long period of transition before new elections.
But violence exploded Monday when state security services opened fire on unarmed protesters holding a sit-in outside military headquarters in Khartoum Monday. At least 35 people were killed and hundreds more injured, according to the Central Sudan Doctors’ Committee, a medical organization affiliated with protesters. Several witnesses said that the paramilitary troops were seen chasing people into hospitals and attacking them there too. Further violence followed.
Hala al-Karib, regional director for the Strategic Initiative for the Horn of Africa, told BuzzFeed News from Kampala, Uganda, that the organization has heard reports of men and women being raped “systematically” throughout the week.
Waad Babikir, a 20-year-old student at the University of Khartoum but currently living in Qatar, had also heard about reports of rape, and told BuzzFeed News via WhatsApp that in the first few days of the military crackdown, “they were literally treating people like prey.”
Babikir’s family made her move to Qatar in April, just before Bashir was arrested, in order to stay safe.
The internet shutdown, which the government enforced on Monday, was reminiscent of the social media blackout issued on Dec. 20, 2018, shortly after protesters took to the streets over a failed economy and cashless ATMs. This has made it nearly impossible for Sudanese people in the country to communicate with their loved ones in the diaspora. Several sources that BuzzFeed News has been in regular communication with for months have been unable to take calls or return messages this week.
Miada Akasha, a teacher currently living in Saudi Arabia, told BuzzFeed News via WhatsApp that her cousin, who is currently in Sudan, messaged her saying that people were camping out near TV stations in order to use some of their Wi-Fi and connect with their families to let them know they’re safe.
Akasha, 29, added that according to her cousin, some people had also started sleeping underneath their beds in case state security forces broke into their homes, and were sneaking around the city “like thieves” just to buy basic goods from nearby supermarkets.
On Thursday, the UN started relocating staff who were based in Khartoum amid the increasing security concerns, while the African Union announced it had suspended Sudan’s membership “until the effective establishment of a Civilian-led Transitional Authority, as the only way to allow the Sudan to exit from the current crisis.”
The US State Department announced on Tuesday that the undersecretary of state for political affairs, David Hale, had spoken with a defense minister from Saudi Arabia to condemn the violence in Sudan, emphasizing the importance of supporting a peaceful transition to civilian-led rule. Some State Department officials have said that Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, are supporting the Sudanese military.
The same day, Amnesty International Secretary General Kumi Naidoo condemned the “horrific and barbaric” behavior of the state security forces in a statement, adding that the “senseless killing of protestors must be stopped immediately, and those responsible for the bloodbath, including at command level, must be held fully accountable for their dreadful actions.”