A number of Sudanese opposition party leaders are in custody following the signing of an accord, dubbed the 'New Dawn Charter', under which they agreed to overthrow the government of President Omar al-Bashir and institute a federal system of government based on democracy, pluralism and the separation of religion and the state.
The charter, signed in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on 6 January, calls on parties to work together to topple the regime through either “democratic civil peaceful means” or “revolutionary armed struggle”.
Among the signatories are major political opposition parties under the banner of the National Consensus Forces, a coalition of armed opposition groups named the Sudan Revolutionary Front, as well as a number of women's and youth groups.
Upon their arrival in Khartoum, five politicians and activists - Jamal Idris, head of the Nasserite Unionist Party; Nasserite Unionist Party member and women’s rights activist Intisar Al-agli; and Democratic Unionist Party members Abdulrrahim Abdullah, Muhammed Zain Ala’abdeen and Hisham Almufti - were arrested. The government described them as "traitors".
On 14 January in Khartoum, security officers arrested the chairman of the executive bureau of the opposition National Alliance, Abdul Aziz Khalid, for having signed the New Dawn Charter.
Government officials have launched scathing attacks on the accord and its signatories, urging clerics to denounce it in their sermons as the work of unbelievers.
While recently addressing a graduation ceremony of the paramilitary Popular Defence Forces, Sudanese presidential assistant and deputy chairman of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) Nafie Ali Nafie said, "The opposition members are traitors for collaborating with rebels to overthrow the regime and for promising a secular system."
Labelling the agreement a "false dawn", he said the government was preparing "a decisive move" against those who signed it.
Media outlets in Sudan have also reported that Vice President Al-Haj Adam Yousif has threatened to prevent opposition parties from conducting their political activities unless they reject the charter.
Opening a new Muslim complex in Gezera State, President Bashir said, "We will not allow any political party involved in a work with the rebels groups to practice politics inside the country."
Since the arrests and proclamations by the government, a number of opposition politicians have distanced themselves from the accord in hopes of escaping the clampdown.
The arrests have been widely criticized by local opposition and human rights groups as unconstitutional and in violation of the right to free speech. The Coalition of Women Politicians said in a statement, "We... strongly condemn the arrest of Intisar Al-agli, head of the coalition, who was arrested in the night in a public street without regard for the sanctity of Sudanese women."
The group said in a statement that security officers stopped Al-agli’s car and took her to their offices without giving her a reason for the arrest; the organization is demanding her immediate and unconditional release.
"The escalation methods adopted by the National Congress Party... and his [Bashir’s] quest to undermine and abuse the political opposition were the motives to sign the 'New Dawn Charter', according to the opposition leaders," said a statement by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. "The arrest of the partisan leaders without a warrant and without pressing specific charges, in addition to arresting them in unknown place, as well as not guaranteeing their natural rights… are serious violations to the adopted international norms in dealing with the detainees."
The ongoing crackdowns follow earlier restrictions on groups critical of the government. Four civil society groups were shut down in December 2012, including the Sudanese Studies Centre, and the Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development. In 2011, the government came under heavy criticism following accusations that security officers had sexually assaulted and tortured protestors who had participated in anti-government demonstrations in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities.
The Confederation of Sudanese Civil Society Organizations and the Campaign for the Defence of Freedom of Expression and Publishing called on the Bashir to intervene for the protection of their rights and to repeal all arbitrary decisions and actions taken against them. In a memo titled "Memorandum on Attacks on Civil Society Organisations", they also called for the removal of all unlawful restrictions on the media, censorship of the press, confiscation of newspapers and harassment of journalists.
Human Rights Watch has also called on Sudan to "allow independent groups to operate freely and conduct peaceful protests".
"Sudan should reverse its draconian steps against civil society groups, and international actors should publicly condemn such measures," Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on 13 January. "The government-led campaign against Sudanese civil society organizations seems designed to stifle diversity, human rights and dialogue on issues of critical importance, rather than to serve any legitimate purpose."