KHARTOUM, March 8 (Reuters) – Sudanese riot police arrested more than 40 women minutes after they started a protest against rape and rights abuses on Tuesday, witnesses said in the latest sign of a crackdown on dissent.
Sudan has regularly shut down demonstrations in the past, but the response of its security agencies has taken on an extra urgency since mass protests in neighbouring Libya and Egypt.
Sudanese women’s groups called the protest against discriminatory laws on Tuesday — marked as International Women’s Day across the world.
Before the rally, organisers said they were enraged by reports of the arrest and rape of Safiya Eshaq, a supporter of anti-government activist group Girifna, in Khartoum last month.
Up to 60 women, waving banners and shouting slogans, gathered in the middle of one the busiest streets in Khartoum suburb Omdurman just before 4pm (1300 GMT), watched by more than 250 police and security officers said a Reuters witness.
Within 10 minutes officers bundled 30 of the women into the back of a truck. When the women continued to protest inside the vehicle, officers entered and beat some of them with batons, said the witness.
Police later rounded up around 12 women in the streets around the scene and drove them to a police station, said the witness.
“It is a demonstration against women’s discrimination. It is not a political organisation,” protest organiser Rasha Awad told Reuters before the event.
Police, armed with batons and teargas have quickly broken up dozens of small anti-government protests in north Sudan this year, many of them against rising prices and some calling for regime change.
Opposition parties said they were planning to hold a rally in solidarity with uprisings across the Arab world in downtown Khartoum on Wednesday. So far none of the demonstrations have gained the momentum of protests seen in Tunis and Cairo.
Eshaq, who has moved to the capital of south Sudan Juba, was recorded in a video describing her ordeal. Sudan’s security services have denied any involvement.