March 22, 2010 / 2:49 PM / in 8 years

Sudanese youth activists arrested, threatened ahead of polls

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese youth activists said on Monday they were being arrested and threatened by security forces to stop them encouraging people to vote for a new government in Sudan’s first multi-party polls in 24 years next month.

<p>Sudanese activists shout slogans during a demonstration in the streets of the capital Khartoum March 4, 2010. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah</p>

Abdallah Mahdi, 18, said he had been held by security agents posing as new recruits, tortured and forced to sign papers saying he was on the payroll of the intelligence services.

The youth opposition group Girifna, which translates as “we are fed up”, said they had put him in a safe house, fearing for his life after he spoke openly about his ordeal.

“We had thought they (the government) would not deal with us with violence but we were wrong,” said Nagi Musa, one of the founders of Girifna, a youth group which aims to remove the ruling National Congress Party using the ballot box.

A number of activists’ houses had been raided, their families “terrorised” and their leaflets urging people to vote against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir confiscated, Musa said.

“They arrested three of our guys speaking in the market (earlier) this month,” Musa told Reuters, adding they were charged with making public noise.

Three days ago another young member was stabbed by a group of unidentified men who were harassing him.

“It’s important for people to know there’s no freedom of expression here,” Musa said.

Mahdi told reporters he had been shown a picture of the Darfuri student Mohamed Musa, tortured to death last month, and warned the same could happen to him if he did not cooperate.

A source in Sudan’s security forces denied any links to the arrest or torture of Mahdi. The state security service also denied any link to Musa’s killing, saying it was being investigated as a criminal case of murder.

With election campaigns in full swing, Sudanese should be free to gather and express themselves, rights guaranteed by the constitution.

But with the state media, police and security forces firmly under the control of Bashir’s NCP, opposition parties have said there is no way April’s presidential and legislative elections could be free and fair.

Last week the only long-term international observer mission in Sudan, the Carter Center, condemned the arrest of the three Girifna members as an “abuse of state power.”

Girifna was formed by young Sudanese fed up with Bashir’s rule and who wanted the opposition to unite against the NCP.

Sudan’s opposition parties have been unable to agree on common candidates against the NCP for the elections or even a united position on whether to boycott the polls as threatened.

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