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Dissident student acquitted of murder as protests rock Sudan Open in fullscreen

Karim Traboulsi

Dissident student acquitted of murder as protests rock Sudan

Asim Omar was arrested in May 2016 and accused of killing a police officer [Twitter]

Date of publication: 22 January, 2019

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A Sudanese court has acquitted a dissident student who was facing a death sentence linked to a 2016 sit-in, amid widespread protests against the regime of Omar al-Bashir.

A Sudanese court has acquitted a dissident student who was facing the death penalty over a 2016 sit-in, amid fresh widespread protests against the regime of Omar al-Bashir.

A criminal court in the Sudanese capital Khartoum handed Asim Omar Hassan, 24, a verdict of not guilty on Tuesday, over charges related to killing a police officer during protests at Khartoum University in 2016. 

The court had sentenced Omar to death but the Constitutional Court overturned the verdict and ordered a retrial.

Sudanese opposition parties and rights groups - who have long said the charges were fabricated - welcomed the news, as a fresh wave of pro-democracy protests continue to spread across the country, triggering a bloody crackdown by the regime, which has left dozens dead and injured so far.

In a sign of his endorsement of the protests, his friends on Twitter say after his release he has decided to visit the families of 'martyrs' killed in the crackdown before going home.

"We join Asim's family in celebrating this good news which comes as a huge relief after he was originally sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit," Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International's Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said.

"The authorities must however conduct an independent and effective investigation into allegations that he was tortured in prison. Though Asim has been acquitted, justice can only truly be done once the officials responsible for his ill-treatment are held to account, and he has been provided with appropriate redress for his injuries and imprisonment."

"The Sudanese authorities must review laws that allow for the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, notably by the National Intelligence and Security Services and the police."

Asim Omar was arrested on 2 May 2016 and accused of killing a police officer during protests at the University of Khartoum the previous month. He pleaded not guilty but was convicted and sentenced to death on 24 September 2017.

He successfully appealed the sentence, and the judge ordered a re-trial of his case in August 2018. 

While in prison, he alleges that he was severely beaten by prison guards sustaining injuries on one of his legs, his testicles and his ears that rendered him incapable of appearing in court for one of the sessions, Amensty said in a statement.

The ongoing Sudanese protests began on 19 December in the northeastern town of Atbara, triggered by the government's decision to greatly increase the price of bread. Unrest quickly spread to the capital and other major cities, demanding the departure of President Omar al-Bashir.

It comes as Sudan suffers from an economic crisis driven by an acute shortage of foreign currency and soaring inflation, which has more than doubled the price of food and medicine.

The protests have emerged as the biggest challenge yet to the authority of President Bashir, who swept to power in 1989 in an Islamist-backed coup.

Riot police and Sudan's feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have led a sweeping crackdown on the protest movement that has seen several opposition leaders, activists, journalists and protesters jailed since the demonstrations erupted. 

The government's tough response has sparked international criticism, with Amnesty International accusing the security forces of using violence against protesters.

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