At least five students killed in nationwide protests

At least five students are among nine people killed in clashes with security forces in Sudan during protests against soaring bread prices and shortages of commodities over the past few days, according to a statement by global human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

The state of emergency, which has been declared in several Sudanese cities, has resulted in the closure of several universities until further notice.

In a statement on 21 December, Amnesty Interntional called for an investigation into the death of the protesters. Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, called for the killings to end.

“These killings must stop. Opening fire on unarmed protesters cannot be justified and what is clearly needed now is an independent, efficient investigation into these events. All those responsible for unnecessary or excessive use of force, including those with command responsibility, must be brought to justice.”

He also called for all those who were arrested for protesting to be released.

“It [the government] must address the root cause of the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in the country instead of trying to prevent people from fully exercising their right to protest against the growing hardships they are facing.”

Social media

The students’ deaths and the injuries sustained by others have been confirmed by video footage on social media. One clip provided information about the death of Mohaned Ahmed Mahmoud, a postgraduate student at the faculty of economic and social studies at the University of Khartoum, while another showed students who had been injured as a result of security forces firing tear gas and bullets to disperse protesters at Khartoum University.

There were also demonstrations at Omdurman Islamic University, the National Ribat University and Sudan University of Science and Technology, which is the largest public university in Sudan.

According to Twitter hashtag “The Cities of Sudan rise", which is monitoring the demonstrations across Sudan, including in the capital of Khartoum, protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers to demonstrate against the government’s economic policies chanting, “The people want the fall of the regime”, a mantra associated with the Arab Spring in 2011.

The protests, which are the biggest Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has faced since he took power in an Islamist and military-backed coup in 1989, were triggered on 19 December by a government decision to raise bread prices from one Sudanese pound (US$0.02) to three Sudanese pounds (US$0.06). The cost of some commodities has more than doubled, inflation is running at close to 70% and the pound has plunged in value.

According to a 2017 news report, Sudan’s rate of unemployment is 19%. It is believed that 17% of that proportion are university graduates.

Closure of universities

According to the Sudan News Agency, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Sadiq Al-Hadi Al-Mahdi, announced on 21 December "the suspension of studies at all higher education institutions in Khartoum state starting on Saturday, 22 December until further notice".

Several other universities outside Khartoum state have announced their closure, including Sinnar University, the University of Dongola, Abdullatif Al-Hamad University and institutions located in White Nile state.

Sudan’s government has blamed nationwide protests on “infiltrators” and opposition parties, according to a 20 December statement by government spokesman Bishara Jumaa.

The demonstrations had been “dealt with by police and security forces in a civilised way without repression or opposition”, he said.

Support for the protests

In sympathy with the protests, the Syndicate of Doctors of Sudan issued a 21 December statement declaring a general strike in all hospitals in Sudan starting on Saturday, until the Sudanese regime steps down. Only emergency treatments will be excluded.

The National Umma Party, Sudan’s main opposition party, called for its members to join the peaceful protest movement, according to a 20 December statement.

The party has supporters within universities and higher education institutions called Al Ansar students' group.

"We appeal to all political and civil forces for more practical steps to unify the ranks in support of the people in their march towards freedom," the statement said.