Thousands Rally in Sudan as Death Toll Mounts in anti-Bashir Protests

Man, 33, pronounced dead while in custody Friday, bringing the death toll to 53 since protests started in December

Sudanese demonstrators march during anti-government protests in Khartoum, Sudan, January 24, 2019.
\ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/ REU

Thousands of residents poured out onto the streets of Sudan's eastern province of Kassala to denounce the killing of a protester arrested last week during demonstrations calling to end the 29-year rule of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, officials and activists said.

The protester, Ahmed Khair, was a 33-year-old school teacher who was detained last Thursday and pronounced dead in custody on Friday evening. Activists said the fatality raises the death toll of the protests, which began on December 19 initially over rising prices and shortages but quickly shifted to calls for the president's ouster, to 53. An estimated 2,000 protesters have also since been wounded, many shot in the eye with birdshot and some losing limbs from live ammunition, according to the activists, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The government's latest tally stands at 30 killed and about 400 wounded, but these figures have not been updated in days.

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The authorities refused to provide a cause of death to Khair's family, but his body, including his groin area, was covered in bruises, a relative of his said. He also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Khair's funeral quickly turned into a protest, with thousands chanting: "We are all Ahmed!" and "Just fall," the slogan and Twitter hashtag of the Dec. 19 demonstrations.

Kassala's police chief denied any police wrongdoing and blamed Khair's death on an "illness," without providing any details. The family, he said, attended an autopsy and "is completely sure that he was not touched or subjected to torture."

There are an additional 33 night protests planned for Saturday night across Sudan, according to online activists.

The country's intelligence and security officials, along with Bashir, insist that the rallies are the work of "evil" foreign powers and have vowed to stop them.

The real figure for the wounded may be significantly higher because many of them avoid going to hospitals for fear of arrest, according to rights lawyers, also speaking anonymously for the same reasons. The authorities have pressed criminal charges against about 70 doctors across the country for sympathizing with the protests and going on strike, they added.