Sudan arrests 3 democracy activists as pressure mounts over military coup

Pro-democracy protesters in the streets of Khartoum, Sudan
Pro-democracy protesters take to the streets to condemn a coup by the military in Khartoum, Sudan.
(Ashraf Idris / Associated Press)

Sudanese security forces detained three prominent pro-democracy figures, relatives and other activists said Wednesday, as internal and international pressure mounted on the country’s new military government to unwind its coup.

The overnight arrests came as protests denouncing Monday’s takeover continued in the capital of Khartoum and elsewhere, and many businesses shut in response to calls for strikes. Security forces also kept up their heavy-handed response, chasing demonstrators in several neighborhoods late Tuesday, activists said, adding that some were shot and wounded. At least six people have been killed in protests so far, according to doctors.

The coup threatens to halt Sudan’s fitful transition to democracy, which began after the 2019 ouster of long-time ruler Omar Bashir and his Islamist government in a popular uprising. The takeover came after weeks of mounting tensions between military and civilian leaders over the course and pace of the transition.


The African Union suspended Sudan — an expected move typically taken in the wake of coups. The AU Peace and Security Council tweeted the decision Wednesday, saying it would remain in place “until the effective restoration of the civilian-led Transitional Authority,” as the deposed government was known.

The AU plans to send a mission to Sudan to hold talks with rival parties.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the military’s takeover was a “catastrophic development,” warning that it would have “severe consequences” for Sudan’s recent efforts to reintegrate into the international community after nearly three decades of isolation under Bashir.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, who led a coup in Sudan, has the backing of other authoritarian governments in the region, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Oct. 27, 2021

“It is putting the country in a perilous situation and is calling Sudan’s democratic and peaceful future ... into question,” Maas said in a statement Tuesday.

Following widespread international condemnation, the military allowed deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and his wife to return home Tuesday night. Hamdok, a former United Nations economist, had been detained along with other government officials when the military seized power.

Several Western embassies in Khartoum said Wednesday that they would continue to recognize Hamdok and his Cabinet as “the constitutional leaders of the transitional government” of Sudan.

In a joint statement, the embassies of the European Union, the U.S., Britain, France and several other European countries called for the release of other detained officials and for talks between the military and the pro-democracy movement.


The military takeover in Sudan threatens to wreck the country’s fragile transition to democracy after the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar Bashir.

Oct. 26, 2021

The new strongman, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, has pledged to hold elections, as planned, in July 2023, and to appoint a technocratic government in the meantime.

But critics doubt that the military is serious about eventually ceding control, noting that the coup came just weeks before Burhan was supposed to hand over the leadership of the top ruling body, the Sovereign Council, to a civilian. The council is made up of both civilian and military leaders but led by a general. Hamdok’s transitional government ran day-to-day affairs.

The activists taken overnight were Ismail Taj, a leader of the Sudanese Professionals’ Assn., the group at the forefront of the protests that brought down Bashir; Sediq Sadiq Mahdi, a leader in Sudan’s largest political party, known as Umma, and brother of Foreign Minister Mariam Mahdi; and Khalid Silaik, a former media advisor to the prime minister.

The three have been outspoken critics of the military takeover — and have called for protests against the move. Already, tens of thousands of Sudanese have taken to the streets, and activists are planning a mass demonstration Saturday.

Security forces confronting protesters have killed at least six people since Monday and wounded over 140 others, many in critical condition, according to physicians with the Sudan Doctors’ Committee.

Silaik was detained moments after he gave an interview to broadcaster Al-Jazeera, according to his wife, Marwa Kamel. In the interview, he criticized the military’s takeover, calling Hamdok and his government the legitimate administration of Sudan.

“What Gen. Burhan did is a complete coup. ... People will respond to this in the coming days,” Silaik said.

Activists Nazim Siraj and Nazik Awad and the Umma party confirmed the arrests of the other two figures.

On Monday, Burhan, the head of the military, dissolved the Sovereign Council and the transitional government and declared a state of emergency. He contended that the military was forced to step in to prevent the country from sliding into civil war — but he had repeatedly warned that he wanted to delay the transition to civilian leadership of the council.