Sudan’s former autocratic president Omar al-Bashir, ousted amid a popular pro-democracy uprising last year, faces trial from Tuesday over the military coup that brought him to power more than three decades ago.
Bashir, 76, who is already behind bars for corruption, could face the death penalty if convicted over his 1989 coup against the democratically elected government of prime minister Sadek al-Mahdi.
The Khartoum trial starting at 0800 GMT against him and 16 co-accused comes as Sudan’s post-revolution transitional government has launched a series of reforms in hopes of fully rejoining the international community.
Sudan has also pledged to hand over Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face trial on war crimes and genocide charges related to the Darfur conflict, which left 300,000 people dead and millions displaced in a scorched earth campaign against a 2003 insurgency.
It is the first time in the modern history of the Arab world that the architect of a coup goes on trial, although the man dubbed the true brain behind the military overthrow, Hassan Turabi of the National Islamic Front, died in 2016.
“This trial will be a warning to anyone who tries to destroy the constitutional system,” said Moaz Hadra, one of the lawyers who led the push to bring the case to court.
“This will safeguard Sudanese democracy. In this way, we hope to bring an end to the era of putsches in Sudan.”
Bashir will be in the dock with 10 military personnel and six civilians, including his former vice presidents Ali Osman Taha and Bakri Hassan Saleh, as well as former ministers and governors.
They are all accused of having plotted the June 30, 1989 coup when the army arrested Sudan’s political leaders, suspended parliament and other state bodies, closed the airport and announced the putsch on the radio.
Bashir, who was later elevated to the rank of general, stayed in power for 30 years before being overthrown on April 11 last year after several months of unprecedented, youth-led street demonstrations.
First coup trial
Hadra told AFP that Bashir and Saleh “have totally refused to cooperate with the commission of enquiry, but they will be present at the court”.
The lawyer said the accused are charged under crimes including Chapter 96 of the 1983 Penal Code, which had been abolished by Bashir, and which carries the death penalty for attempting to destroy the constitutional order.
Hadra said that “this is the first time someone who launches a coup will be brought to justice” in Sudan, which has seen three coups d’etat since its 1956 independence from Britain.
One of the 150 defence lawyers, Hashem al-Gali, charged that Bashir and the others would face “a political trial” being held “in a hostile environment on the part of the judicial system against the defendants”.
“In fact, this trial is aimed at the Islamic movement and its sole purpose is to present it as a terrorist movement, but we have prepared our defence and we will prove the contrary,” Gali stressed.
He argued Bashir’s overthrow of Mahdi took place so long ago that it was beyond the statute of limitations and should therefore no longer be dealt with by a court.
Former police general Salah Mattar, who was head of internal security in 1989, welcomed the trial, recounting how he had anticipated the overthrow.
“I had observed movements and meetings of the National Islamic Front six months before the coup and made a report to interior minister Mubarak al-Mahdi, but he ignored it,” Mattar recounted to AFP.
“After the coup I was chased out with six high-ranking police officers.”
The trial takes place at a time when Sudan’s joint civilian-military transitional government is introducing a host of reforms and has relaunched peace talks with rebel groups.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s administration has recently abolished rules restricting women’s movements, outlawed the practice of female genital mutilation, scrapped a law against apostasy and relaxed a ban on alcohol.
Khartoum hopes to soon be taken off the US State Department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism, a significant hurdle to receiving foreign aid and investment.
Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, who on Saturday was ordered detained in a correctional centre for two years for corruption, ruled his country with an iron fist for 30 years before his ouster in April.
Here are some of his key dates.
– January 1, 1944: Born to a farming family in the village of Hosh Bannaga, north of Khartoum.
– 1973: A soldier from a young age, fights alongside the Egyptian army in the Arab-Israeli war.
– June 30, 1989: As brigade commander, seizes power in an Islamist-backed coup against the democratically elected government.
– 2003: Sends troops and militia to crush a rebellion in Darfur. The conflict claims more than 300,000 lives, according to the UN.
– 2009: The International Criminal Court issues a warrant for his arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. The following year it issues a warrant for genocide. He denies the charges.
– 2010: Elected president in the first multiparty vote since he took power, boycotted by the opposition. Re-elected in 2015.
– 2013: Deadly demonstrations against his government erupt after a petrol price hike.
– April 11, 2019: After four months of protests demanding he quit, Bashir is ousted by the military and detained.
– May 13, 2019: Charged over killings of protesters.
– August 19, 2019: Goes on trial for corruption.
– November 12, 2019: Charged with “plotting” the 1989 coup that brought him to power.
– December 14, 2019: Convicted of graft and “possession of foreign currency”, and ordered to serve two years in a correctional centre for the elderly.
A Sudanese court convicted deposed president Omar al-Bashir of graft on Saturday and sentenced him to two years’ house arrest in a social care facility.
The charges stemmed from millions of dollars received by the toppled strongman from Saudi Arabia.
Bashir, who was deposed by the army in April after months of mass protests against his three-decade rule, appeared in court in a metal cage wearing a traditional white jalabiya and turban for the verdict.
He was convicted of “corruption” and “possession of foreign currency”, judge Al Sadiq Abdelrahman said, charges which can carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Instead the court, taking into account his age, ordered the 75-year-old to serve two years in a correctional centre for the elderly.
“Under the law, those who reached the age of 70 shall not serve jail terms,” the judge said.
Bashir will serve his sentence after the verdict has been reached in another case in which he is accused of ordering the killing of demonstrators during the protests that led to his ouster, the judge said.
The court also ordered the confiscation of 6.9 million euros, $351,770 and 5.7 million Sudanese pounds ($128,000) found at Bashir’s home.
The ex-president will appeal the verdict, said one of his lawyers, Ahmed Ibrahim.
Outside the court, several dozen Bashir supporters gathered chanting: “There is no god but God.”
Hundreds more holding banners reading “Down, down the government” marched in central Khartoum where there was a heavy security presence.
Sudan is now ruled by a joint civilian and military sovereign council, which is tasked with overseeing a transition to civilian rule.
The authorities announced Saturday the dissolution of professional organisations put in place under Bashir — one of the demands of the protest movement that unseated him.
Bashir admitted to having received a total of $90 million from Saudi leaders and the trial centred on the $25 million received from Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Bashir said the money seized from his home came out of the $25 million.
The funds, he said, formed part of Sudan’s strategic relations with Saudi Arabia and were “not used for private interests but as donations”.
Bashir’s lawyer Mohamed al-Hassan had said before the verdict that the ex-president’s defence did not see the trial as a legal case, but as a “political” one.
The trial does not relate to charges Bashir faces at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Bashir has been wanted by the ICC for years for his role in the Darfur war that broke out in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against his Arab-dominated government which they accused of marginalising the region.
Human rights groups say Khartoum targeted suspected pro-rebel ethnic groups with a scorched earth policy, raping, killing, looting and burning villages.
The Darfur conflict left around 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced, according to the United Nations.
After Bashir was toppled, ICC prosecutors requested he stand trial for the killings in Darfur.
Army generals who initially seized power after the president’s fall refused to hand him over.
But Sudan’s umbrella protest movement, which now has significant representation on a sovereign council that in August became the country’s highest executive authority — recently said it has no objection to his extradition.
Separately, on November 12, Sudanese authorities filed charges against Bashir and some of his aides for “plotting” the 1989 coup that brought him to power.
In May, Sudan’s attorney general said Bashir had been charged with the deaths of those killed during the anti-regime demonstrations that led to his ouster, without specifying when he would face trial.
For Jamal Ibrahim, whose sisters were raped by militiamen in Darfur, only the handover of Sudan’s ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court can bring peace to the restive Darfur region.
“Two of my sisters were raped in front of my eyes by militiamen who stormed through our village, setting our houses on fire,” Ibrahim, 34, told AFP at Camp Kalma, a sprawling facility where tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict in Darfur have lived for years.
“Bashir and his aides who committed the crimes in Darfur must be handed over to the ICC if peace is to be established in the region.”
Ibrahim, who is from Mershing in the mountainous Jebel Marra area of Darfur, said his village was attacked by Arab militiamen in March 2003 soon after conflict erupted in the region.
The fighting broke out when ethnic African rebels took up arms against Khartoum’s then Arab-dominated government under Bashir, alleging racial discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion.
Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed, a group of mostly Arab raiding nomads that it recruited and armed to create a militia of gunmen who were often mounted on horses or camels.
They have been accused of applying a scorched earth policy against ethnic groups suspected of supporting the rebels — raping, killing, looting and burning villages.
The brutal campaign earned Bashir and others arrest warrants from The Hague-based ICC for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
About 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict, the United Nations says.
‘Won’t accept any peace deal’
Bashir, who denies the ICC charges, was ousted by the army in April after months of nationwide protests against his ironfisted rule of three decades.
He is currently on trial in Khartoum on charges of corruption, but war victims like Ibrahim want the ex-leader to stand trial at the ICC, something the northeast African country’s new authorities have so far resisted.
Ibrahim said his father and his uncle were shot dead when militiamen, riding on camels, rampaged through their village.
“We fled from there… and came to this camp. Since then we have not returned to our village,” Ibrahim told an AFP correspondent who visited Camp Kalma last week.
Established near Niyala, the provincial capital of South Darfur state, Camp Kalma is one of the largest facilities hosting people displaced by the conflict.
It is a sprawling complex of dusty tracks lined with mud and brick structures, including a school, a medical centre and a thriving market, where everything from clothes to mobile phones are sold.
Hundreds of thousands of Darfur victims live in such camps, subsisting on aid provided by the UN and other international organisations.
In Camp Kalma, hundreds of women and children queue up daily to collect their monthly quota of food aid.
“Often the officials here tell us that we must return to our village, but we can’t because our lands are occupied by others,” said a visibly angry Amina Mohamed, referring to Arab pastoralists who now occupy large swathes of land that previously belonged to people from Darfur.
“We won’t accept any peace deal unless we get back our land. We will leave this camp only when those who committed the crimes are taken to the ICC.”
Even as instances of violence in Darfur, a region the size of Spain, have fallen in recent years, there are still regular skirmishes between militiamen fighting for resources and livestock.
Sudan’s new transitional authorities have vowed to bring peace to Darfur and two other conflict zones of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
A Sudanese delegation led by generals and government officials is currently holding peace talks in the South Sudan capital of Juba with two umbrella rebel groups that fought Bashir’s forces in these three regions.
On Wednesday, the chief of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, announced a “permanent ceasefire” in the three regions to show that authorities are committed to establishing peace.
But residents of Camp Kalma are not convinced, with hundreds of them staging a protest against the talks in Juba.
Musa Adam, 59, who hails from the village of Dilej but has lived in Camp Kalma for years, is in no mood to forgive Bashir.
Seven members of his family were shot dead by militiamen when they raided his village in 2003, Adam said.
“I know those militia leaders… I am ready to testify at the ICC against them as a witness to their crimes,” he said.
“Until these criminals are taken to the ICC, we cannot have peace in Darfur.”
Rights group Amnesty International Friday called for justice for those killed during months of protests that rocked Sudan, insisting that demonstrators had faced “disproportionate and unnecessary” violence.
Sudan has experienced unprecedentedly large rallies since December, first against now-ousted leader Omar al-Bashir and later against the generals who seized power after overthrowing him.
The protest movement says that more than 250 demonstrators were killed in the violence, including at least 127 in a crackdown on a sit-in during early June outside military headquarters in Khartoum.
“Amnesty International thanks the people of Sudan for showing us courage, for showing us resilience and for showing that we can resist injustice and violation of human rights,” Amnesty International Secretary General Kumi Naidoo told reporters during a visit to Khartoum, in the first such trip by the rights group’s chief to Sudan.
He said the demonstrators were confronted by “disproportionate use of violence, unnecessary use of violence and provocative use of violence”.
Hundreds of Sudanese protesters rallied near the presidential palace on Thursday, seeking justice for comrades killed in demonstrations that rocked the country since December.
Mobilised by protest umbrella the Forces for Freedom and Change, demonstrators also urged the new authorities to appoint a permanent chief of judiciary and prosecutor general.
“Blood for blood — we won’t accept compensation!” chanted the crowds near the palace in Khartoum, many carrying Sudanese flags and photographs of those killed in protest related violence.
More than 250 people have been killed since protests erupted in December, first against now-ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir and later against a military council that deposed him.
In August, Sudan embarked on a transition to civilian rule thanks to a power-sharing deal signed between protest leaders and the generals, and a joint civilian-military ruling body was sworn in.
That body — headed by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who also led the military council before it was dissolved last month — now sits at the presidential palace.
At least 127 demonstrators were killed in a crackdown in early June at a weeks-long sit-in outside military headquarters in Khartoum, according to doctors linked to the protest movement.
Officials gave a lower death toll.
Members of the feared Rapid Support Forces militia – headed by General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, a key powerbroker in the military council and subsequently the new sovereign council — have been widely accused of orchestrating those killings.
On Thursday, protesters also demanded a new permanent chief of the judiciary and a prosecutor general in order to investigate cases against those responsible for the killings of demonstrators.
“The revolution could fail if there’s a delay in these appointments,” a group of lawyers who are part of the protest movement said in a statement.
Similar rallies were also reported in the Red Sea coastal city of Port Sudan and in the towns of Kassala and Madani, witnesses said.
Sudan’s first cabinet since the ouster of Bashir was sworn in on Sunday.
Omar al-Bashir received $90 million in cash from Saudi royals, an investigator told a court at the opening Monday of the deposed Sudanese strongman’s corruption trial.
The former president, who was forced from power by months of protests in April after 30 years in power, sat in a metal cage wearing a traditional white gown.
His relatives chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) as proceedings got under way in the Khartoum court where he arrived in a huge military convoy.
Bashir faces a raft of charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide from the International Criminal Court over his role in the Darfur war but Monday’s trial is over graft allegations.
Large amounts of cash were found at this residence after he was toppled and the investigator said the case brought forward to the court probed some of that money.
“The accused told us that the money was part of a sum of $25 million sent to him by Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be used outside of the state budget,” investigator Ahmed Ali said.
According to him Bashir had said he also received two previous payments of $35 million and $30 million from Saudi King Abdullah, who died in 2015.
“This money was not part of the state budget and I was the one who authorised its spending,” the investigator quoted Bashir as saying.
Bashir had said the Saudi money was exchanged and spent and that he could not remember how nor did he have documents providing further details, he added.
Bashir looked calm during the nearly three-hour session, which an AFP photographer and correspondent attended. The next hearing was scheduled for August 24.
In May, Sudan’s prosecutor general also said Bashir had been charged over killings during the anti-regime protests which eventually led to his ouster.
London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International has warned however that the corruption trial should not distract from his Darfur indictments.
“While this trial is a positive step towards accountability for some of his alleged crimes, he remains wanted for heinous crimes committed against the Sudanese people,” Amnesty said.
Amnesty urged the country’s new transitional institutions to ratify the ICC’s Rome Statute, a move that would allow for his transfer to the international tribunal.
The Hague-based ICC has for years demanded that Bashir stand trial, and has renewed its call since his fall.
The head of Bashir’s defence team, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, said in July that the ousted leader’s trial had no “political background”.
“It is an absolute criminal case with a baseless accusation.”
It was the sudden tripling of bread prices in December that sparked the mushrooming protests which led to the toppling of Bashir by the army in April.
The trial comes as the composition of the joint civilian and military sovereign council that will steer the country of 40 million through a 39-month transition was due to be unveiled on Monday.
The line-up had been expected to be announced on Sunday but it was delayed after one of the five nominees put forward by the opposition alliance representing protest leaders turned down the job.
The Transitional Military Council which took over from Bashir and will be dissolved by the creation of the sovereign said the announcement had been delayed at the request of the opposition.
The composition of the new body is now expected on Tuesday.
The ruling sovereign council will be composed of 11 members including six civilians and five from the military.
It will be headed by a general for the first 21 months and by a civilian for the remaining 18 months.
The council will oversee the formation of a transitional civilian administration including a cabinet and a legislative body.
The transition’s key documents were signed on Saturday at a ceremony attended by a host of foreign dignitaries, signalling that Sudan could be on its way to shedding the pariah status the Darfur atrocities and Bashir’s international arrest warrant had conferred on it.
Amidst the euphoria celebrating the promise of civilian rule, unease was palpable however within the protest camp that brought about one of the most crucial changes in Sudan’s modern history.
One of its main causes is the omnipresence in the transition of General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, a paramilitary commander and one of the signatories of the documents, whose forces are blamed for the deadly repression of the protests.
And it remains unclear how the transitional institutions will tackle the daunting task of pacifying a country plagued by several conflicts, including in the regions of Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile.
As Muslims in Khartoum marked their first Eid al-Adha feast without Omar al-Bashir as a ruler in three decades, the mood was upbeat on Sunday but the menu stayed frugal.
Months of bloody anti-regime protests created a historic opportunity for civilian rule in Sudan but also saw prices soar, putting a damper on celebrations.
In Khartoum markets, the price of a sheep — a must in the Feast of the Sacrifice which is considered the holiest day in the Muslim calendar — has doubled since last year.
“You used to be able to find a sheep for 3,500” Sudanese pounds ($60), said Mohamed Abdullahi, a farmer who lives on Tuti, a rural island wedged between the twin cities of Khartoum and Omdurman, where the Blue and White Nile meet.
This year he paid 8,000 pounds, an amount he couldn’t really afford even after raising the selling price of the milk from the few cows he rears on a small plot by the riverbank.
“I have three children, I had to bring them something for the feast,” the greying 43-year-old said.
In Khartoum’s Bori neighbourhood, considered one of the cradles of the protest movement that brought down Bashir earlier this year, an Eid market known for its low prices is witnessing record turnover.
“There’s a lack of cash in Sudan at the moment. Here we are using electronic payment cards a lot, to make it easier for the people,” said one of the traders, Maki Amir.
“Many people feel happy because of the revolution and the peace that was signed last week, that’s why they want a real Eid celebration,” he said.
Sudan’s economy was sent into a tailspin when the oil-rich south seceded in 2011 and the past eight months of turmoil — which initially erupted with protests over a tripling of bread prices — have taken a further toll.
As buyers swarmed the huddled sheep on the dusty open market ground and inspected the animals’ teeth, the haggling was sometimes acrimonious.
Some men looking to buy a sheep to slaughter blamed traders for taking advantage of the power vacuum to raise their prices.
The traders retorted they were being taxed by the government more than ever before.
Since the last devaluation of the pound in October by the then Sudanese authorities, the currency has plunged by a further 70 percent against the dollar on the black market.
A deal was reached a week ago between the country’s generals and protest leaders to transition to civilian rule in just over three years.
The landmark constitutional agreement is to be signed at a ceremony on August 17 but, even if its provisions are implemented, the country remains on the brink of economic collapse.
On the capital’s walls, some of the protest murals have already been painted over and its streets were largely empty, many residents having left town to celebrate Eid al-Adha in their villages.
At the market in Bori, Amir Abdullah came to buy a goat for an expatriate friend who wants it donated to charity but he will not be able to afford one for himself this year.
He also said celebrating did not feel like a priority after so many protesters, an estimated 250, were killed in their efforts to take down the military regime.
“Eid is not the same for everybody. Now I’m still in mourning for those who lost their lives,” said Abdullah, sweat pearling on his forehead from the afternoon heat.
“Definitely, the situation is getting worse, there is no work, no income and no investment… but we have to stay focused on achieving the goals of the revolution: freedom, peace and justice.”
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Wednesday demanded that deposed Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir stand trial for the mass killings perpetrated in Darfur.
“Now is the time for the people of Sudan to choose law over the impunity and ensure that the ICC suspects in the Darfur situation finally face justice in a court of law,” prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the UN Security Council.
Bashir, who has been in jail in Sudan since a military coup ended his 30-year rule in April, was indicted by the ICC in 2009 in connection with fighting in the western region of Darfur.
More than 300,000 people have died there and 2.5 million others have been displaced since 2003, according to UN figures.
Bashir appeared in a court in Khartoum on Sunday to hear corruption charges levelled against him. He also faces possible murder charges for the deaths of demonstrators killed during the protests that led to his downfall.
The generals who now rule Sudan have so far ruled out transferring Bashir to the ICC, which accuses him of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The ICC prosecutor said that after the tumultuous events of recent months, Sudan “is now at a crossroads with the opportunity to depart from its previous policy of complete non-cooperation.”
He urged the country to “embark on a new chapter by signalling a new commitment to accountability for the victims” in Darfur.
“I am ready to engage in dialogue with the authorities in Sudan to ensure that the Darfur suspects face independent and impartial justice, either in a courtroom in The Hague or in Sudan,” said Bensouda.
“Continued impunity is not an option,” she said. “The victims of the Darfur situation deserve to finally have their day in court.”
The ICC has issued five arrest warrants in connection with the Darfur case. As well as Bashir, two suspects, Abdel Raheem Hussein and Ahmad Harun, have reportedly been arrested in Sudan, Bensouda said.
Several members of the Security Council, most of them European states, have backed Bensouda’s calls for Bashir to be brought before the international court and for the new authorities in Khartoum to cooperate with the ICC.
International appeals judges Monday upheld a reprimand of Jordan for failing to arrest former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during a visit to the Arab country two years ago.
Amman had appealed a decision by the International Criminal Court which found that Jordan “failed to comply with its obligations” when it refused to detain Bashir in 2017, wanted by the Hague-based tribunal for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
But the ICC’s appeal judges eased the blow by reversing pre-trial chamber judges’ decision to refer Jordan to the UN Security Council and the court’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) for further measures.
Despite two international warrants for his arrest on 10 charges arising from the conflict in Darfur, Bashir freely attended an Arab League summit in Amman in March 2017.
“By failing to arrest and surrender Mr Bashir, in circumstances in which Mr Bashir was entitled to no immunity, Jordan prevented the court from exercising an important power and a fundamental function,” Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji said.
Jordan is a member of the Rome Statute, which underpins the tribunal — established in 2002 to try the world’s worst atrocities — and as such has agreed to comply with the court’s orders.
In a first for the court, Amman last year appealed the ICC’s findings that it failed to fulfil its legal obligations in seizing Bashir, saying it was not obliged to do so.
Jordan’s lawyers argued that Bashir at the time of his visit was a sitting head of state “and therefore immune to arrest,” based on the international legal principle of comity between states.
But Eboe-Osuji said Monday that head-of-state immunity did not stop the ICC — an international court — from exercising its jurisdiction according to its founding document, the Rome Statute.
Easing the verdict on Jordan however, Eboe-Osuji added that the court’s pre-trial judges should not have referred the matter to the Security Council and the ASP.
“The judges’ discretion to refer the case to the UNSC and ASP was tainted,” Eboe-Osuji said.
Over the last decade Bashir has travelled to a number of countries who did not arrest him, including ICC member states like South Africa and Jordan.
Bashir was toppled last month after 30 years of iron rule in Sudan, raising hopes that he would be extradited to The Hague to stand trial.