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Grieving families of killed Sudanese protesters demand justice

Young labourer Gamal Shazly first joined Sudan’s street protests demanding full democracy almost three years ago, but in the end his desire for freedom cost him his life.

Mahasen Muhammad, 53, mother of slain Sudanese protester Gamal Shazly, holds his portrait during an interview at the family home in Khartoum
Mahasen Muhammad, 53, mother of slain Sudanese protester Gamal Shazly, holds his portrait during an interview at the family home in Khartoum

Shazly, 20, was among the more than one dozen demonstrators killed by security forces in violence that has shaken the capital since a military coup early last week.

“How could they confront peaceful protesters with weapons?” asked his bereaved father Abdelnasser Shazly about the death of his youngest son. “He was just calling for civilian rule.”

Speaking at his home in southern Khartoum, the grieving father said that “when I went to the morgue to see him, I couldn’t recognise him at first. His left eye was bulging out of his face.

“He was hit by three bullets, which seemed to have been fired at close range,” he said, describing two gunshot wounds to the head and one to the stomach.

One side of his son’s body appeared to have been mangled by a heavy vehicle, the father said.

Despite his young age, Shazly was already a veteran of the unprecedented, nationwide mass rallies that in April 2019 brought down Sudan’s long-time president Omar al-Bashir.

Shazly had earned the nickname “Jawaya”, or “airforce”, since he had manned a protest roadblock near the building of that wing of the armed forces at Khartoum military headquarters in 2019.

– Fears of ‘escalation’ –

Those protests led Sudan’s generals to topple and jail Bashir, and set the Northeast African country on a fragile transition period under a joint civilian-military government.

Tensions however simmered in the country, deepened by economic crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.

They exploded on October 25 when the de facto leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, ousted the civilian leadership.

Burhan, who had risen through the ranks under Bashir’s three-decade rule, insisted that it “was not a coup” but simply a move “to rectify the transition”.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was detained and then placed under house arrest, sparking international condemnation and outrage on the streets, where security forces once more confronted protesters.

The Central Committee for Sudanese Doctors, an independent union of medics, said security forces fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets, but also live rounds.

Amnesty International has said that security forces used “lethal force” and voiced fears about a looming “escalation in human rights violations”.

– ‘Persecution and repression’ –
Sudan has a long history of military coups, enjoying only rare interludes of democratic rule since winning independence in 1956.

The end of the Bashir era brought hope for many who had suffered under his autocratic reign, marked by decades of bloody internal conflict, international isolation, mismanagement and economic hardship.

“I have long lived under military regimes … which are all about persecution and repression,” said Abdelsalam Anwar — another father who lost a son to the most recent crackdowns.

He recounted how 21-year-old Mohamed Anwar — another participant of the anti-Bashir protests, nicknamed “Mido” — was severely wounded in a demonstration on the day of the putsch.

The young man was among protesters who manned makeshift barricades and set car tyres ablaze in Khartoum-North, the capital’s twin city, according to his brother, Osama.

Security forces then “fired tear gas” and targeted protesters, he said.

“They starting shooting heavily, and I was too scared to go out,” Osama said.

“By the time it stopped, they told me my brother was shot and taken to the hospital.”

– ‘We’re tired’ –

The young man was treated for severe wounds close to his heart, and to the side of his body. He succumbed to his injuries two days later, his family said.

His sister Dalia said that, amid Sudan’s years of turmoil, Mohamed had “still held onto hopes for this country, and that’s why he joined the protests”.

Despite the violence and cuts to internet and phone lines, anti-coup protesters have still rallied, with tens of thousands turning out last Saturday. Small rallies continued on Thursday.

Sudan’s interior ministry has lambasted reports that protesters were killed as “inaccurate”, and denied that security forces fired live rounds.

Local and international actors have sought to mediate between the civilians and the military.

Abdelsalam Anwar said he only wants justice for his son, and an end to military rule.

“We’re tired,” he said. “And the people will not stay still. It’s a repressive regime in all respects. I don’t want my son’s blood to have been wasted.” AFP