Sudan opposition leader jailed for protest

Khartoum (AFP) –


A Sudanese emergency court Sunday sentenced an opposition leader to a week in jail, as police detained several people intent on marching on parliament to protest a state of emergency.

Mariam al-Mahdi said she will spend a total of three weeks in jail after refusing to pay a fine of 2,000 Sudanese pounds ($42).

Deputy chief of the opposition Umma Party, led by her father and former premier Sadiq al-Mahdi, she and her sister Rabah were among those arrested earlier on Sunday.

Protest organisers had called for a march to challenge the state of emergency, imposed nationwide by President Omar al-Bashir on February 22.

Bashir's move came after a crackdown on rallies against his iron-fisted rule failed to deter demonstrators.

The president has ordered a slew of tough measures to quell the protests, including banning all unauthorised rallies and setting up the emergency courts to probe offences.

Sunday's procession was to start at the Umma Party offices in the capital's twin city of Omdurman.

"As some of our leaders came out of the party office to lead the march, security agents arrested them," said Mohamed al-Mahdi, a party leader who is not related to the former premier's family.

Riot police fired tear gas at those who had gathered outside the party offices, witnesses said, prompting the crowd to disperse before the march could begin.

"Protesters have now launched demonstrations in some areas of Omdurman. Many of them have been arrested," one onlooker said.

Later on Sunday, protesters also rallied in some areas of Khartoum, including in the eastern district of Burri that has become a regular site of demonstrations, according to witnesses.

- Other leaders fined -

Alongside the two daughters of the former prime minister, "five other leaders of our party have also been taken away by security agents," Mohamed al-Mahdi said.

After her sentencing, Mariam al-Mahdi was taken to a women's prison in Omdurman.

"Goodbye, I have decided not to pay the fine, so see you after three weeks," she wrote on her Facebook page.

Her sister Rabah al-Mahdi was fined 500 Sudanese pounds and the other five leaders were fined 1,000 pounds each.

The latest sentencings come a day after another emergency court in Khartoum sentenced nine women to 20 lashes and a month in prison for joining protests.

The rulings by emergency courts came despite Bashir on Friday ordering the release of all women detainees held during demonstrations.

Protests initially broke out on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread, amid a broader economic crisis in the country.

Demonstrations have since escalated to nationwide rallies against Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 coup that toppled the government of Sadiq al-Mahdi.

Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch says the death toll is at least 51 and includes medics and children.