Explained: Sudan’s deadly unrest, blue profile pictures and criticism of apathy – National

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Blue profile pictures and social media campaigns have been urging those around the world to pay attention to persisting unrest in Sudan. 

At least 128 people have died in the country since June 3, when the military violently dispersed a sit-in camp in Khartoum.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in Sudan.

WATCH: UN ‘gravely concerned’ about growing violence in Sudan





Protests dating back to December

Sudan’s unrest dates back to December when protests broke out across the country over cash shortages and high bread prices brought on by the government’s elimination of subsidies. 

The protests dragged on until April, when the Sudanese military stepped in to remove President Omar al-Bashir from office.

READ MORE: Sudanese paramilitary accused of sexual assaults, firing on medical clinic during deadly raid

Jason Patinkin, a Chicago-based journalist who was in the capital city of Khartoum in April covering the uprising, described the atmosphere at the time.

“Thousands of people were camping out, occupying the streets to demand a civilian government,” he told Global News.

“There was music and art and dance, and just all sorts of jubilation.”

Peaceful demonstrations continued until earlier this month, when reports emerged that demonstrators were killed, and dozens were raped or otherwise injured.

Witnesses said the Rapid Support Forces led the raid on the sit-in in Khartoum on June 3, which then led to the collapse of talks between the transitional military council and opposition groups pushing for a democratic transition.

In this April 11, 2019 photo, Sudanese celebrate after officials said the military had forced longtime autocratic President Omar al-Bashir to step down after 30 years in power in Khartoum, Sudan.

AP Photo

“It was a very different scene. There was fear, people were staying inside. People were really terrified of the government and what the military might do to them,” Patinkin said. “It’s really unclear what happens next.”

And unrest is taking place beyond the Khartoum.

Last week, Amnesty International said it had new evidence showing that, “Sudanese government forces, including the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias, have continued to commit war crimes and other serious human rights violations in Darfur.”

At least 45 villages were completely or partially destroyed in the past year, Amnesty said.

“In Darfur, as in Khartoum, we’ve witnessed the Rapid Support Forces’ despicable brutality against Sudanese civilians – the only difference being, in Darfur they have committed atrocities with impunity for years,” said Amnesty Secretary General Kumi Naidoo.

WATCH: Thousands rally through night, defying military curfew in Sudan





Foreign influence and internet blockage

Khalid Ahmed, a University of Toronto lecturer for the African Studies Program, had similar concerns over the violence.

Ahmed told Global News people in Khartoum are still being looted, injured or even killed upon leaving their homes.

READ MORE: Why Sudan’s successful coup is collapsing into protests and death

The professor noted that the unrest is complex, and influenced by other countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has close ties to the military council.

“Their orders and their plans and their policies come from abroad, they are not really articulated and made in Sudan. There is a lot of foreign intervention in the decision of the military council, and people have been speaking loudly against it.”

Despite these concerns, Saudi Arabia has publicly remained neutral, saying that it encourages dialogue to resolve the unrest.

“The Kingdom hopes that all parties in Sudan will choose wisdom and constructive dialogue to preserve security and stability in Sudan, protect the people of Sudan from all harm, while maintaining Sudan’s interests and unity,” a statement on the official Saudi Press Agency said earlier this month.

A victim of violence in the crackdown on Sudanese protesters lays down inside a ward receiving treatment in a hospital in Omdurman, Khartoum, Sudan, June 10, 2019.

Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

Ahmed also raised concerns about the country’s internet services being disconnected, which the military cited as necessary for “national security.”

“During these types of revolutions, governments or regimes tend to cut power off to make sure information. It also gives them a cover for any kind of news of violence that they may want to commit against civilians from being reported internationally,” Ahmed said.

Many of the demonstrations were organized using social media, BBC News reported, using the Facebook group Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA).

The lack of social media has made organizing difficult, and also made it difficult for people around the world to contact their loved ones in the country.

WATCH: Displaced residents of South Sudan return home as security improves





The current situation

On Monday, Sudan’s protest leaders called for nighttime demonstrations in Khartoum, and elsewhere in the country, amid a tense standoff with the ruling military over who should lead the transition after the ouster of al-Bashir.

The protest leaders said they’ve begun a “revolutionary escalation” to pressure the country’s generals to hand over power to civilians.

The group representing the protesters — known as the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change (FDFC) — said the night rallies will begin on Tuesday and marches on Thursday.

READ MORE: How one woman became the symbol of Sudanese protests

The calls came a day after the deputy head of Sudan’s ruling military council, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, pushed back against demands from protest leaders concerning the composition of a transitional legislative body, seen by protest leaders as their “most important victory” in talks with the military.

Negotiations between the military and protesters were called after June 3. The FDFC announced a package of conditions to be met before resuming talks, which included the formation of an international commission to investigate the killings of protesters, restoring internet services, and adherence to any deals struck before the breakdown in talks.

WATCH: Celebrations in parts of Sudan following al-Bashir’s resignation





Is the world not paying attention?

Since June 3, several social media users have turned their profile pictures blue to raise awareness.

The blue represents the favourite colour of a protester named Mohamed Mattar who died in Sudan. The blue photos come with hashtags such as #TurnTheWorldBlue and #BlueForSudan, and a message that the world needs to be paying attention.

According to Al Jazeera, Matter was reportedly killed by the RSF while trying to protect two women. Mattar’s profile picture was a solid blue colour.

Others have also criticized the media and western politicians for not giving the Sudan crisis the attention other world events are given.

Ahmed explained the criticism of Sudan unrest not being given enough attention is not entirely new or surprising.

“Normally African affairs are always at the bottom of any interest of governments and media. Africa and African issues are forgotten,” he said.

But in the case of Sudan, Ahmed noted that awareness is slowly starting to be raised.

“Since the massacre, it’s been getting a lot more coverage, so I think people are beginning to keep an eye on it, and wonder what’s going on.”

WATCH: Why we don’t pay attention to the world’s worst violence

World leaders’ reaction

Global News reached out to the Canadian government over the unrest, and criticism that western countries have not done enough, and was forwarded a statement released earlier this month.

The statement read that Canada is “closely following the evolving situation in Sudan.”

“We are appalled that the Sudanese Transitional Military Council and Rapid Support Forces violently attacked protestors in front of the Sudanese Armed Forces headquarters on June 3, and by the continued use of indiscriminate violence to intimidate the civilian population,” it added.

The statement also noted that the Canadian government is prepared to support a “civilian-led transition to a democratically elected government in Sudan.”

READ MORE: Canadians should avoid all travel to Sudan amid ongoing military coup, feds warn

Ethiopia and the U.S. recently stepped up diplomatic efforts to ease Sudan’s growing tensions.

The countries sent special envoys to Sudan, and have made efforts to revive the talks and find a peaceful solution.

In a sign of continued international pressure, the European Union on Monday called for military and protest leaders to refrain from unilateral moves, and resume negotiations “immediately,” based on agreements reached so far.

The statement, issued by an EU council representing its member states, urged the military to take confidence-building measures, including lifting restrictions on freedom of assembly, freedom of the media, civic space and access to the internet, and for the FDFC to respond accordingly.

— With files from Global News reporter Emanuela Campanella, Reuters and The Associated Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.





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