CAIRO – A prominent Sudanese opposition leader was arrested from his home in the Sudanese capital Khartoum after he made remarks criticizing the government's security policy in the war-torn region of Darfur, a member of his party said Saturday.
Alwathig ElBerair, a member of the political bureau of Sadiq al-Mahdi's al-Ummah party, said security forces arrested the 78-year old politician from his home late Saturday, and whisked him away to security offices first. After a few hours, al-Mahdi was transferred to Kober prison, where he will be questioned Sunday on accusations that he breached domestic security and threatened the constitution, ElBerair said.
Al-Mahdi is Sudan's last democratically elected prime minister and was removed from office after the 1989 coup by current President Omar Bashir. Following his ouster, he left Khartoum, but returned in 2000 and was one of the most prominent figures among the regime's opposition. He unsuccessfully ran for office in 2010. Al-Mahdi is from a prominent family in Sudan's history and has a large following, particularly in the war-ravaged western Darfur region.
In recent comments, al-Mahdi criticized the government's policies in Darfur, blaming a paramilitary force there of rape and grave rights violations. He was already interrogated by prosecutors over his public remarks and many in the parliament, dominated by Bashir's party, raged against his comments.
ElBerair said al-Mahdi was "surprised" by his arrest. He said the Ummah party is sticking by its leader's comments and had asked its base to mobilize to protest the arrest. He said the party will weigh how to respond to the arrest. But already, al-Ummah has announced it is withdrawing from the national dialogue initiative which was called for by Bashir ahead of next year's parliamentary and presidential elections.
Darfur has been gripped by bloodshed since 2003 when rebels took up arms against the government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination and neglect. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on March 4, 2009, on five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes for allegedly orchestrating atrocities in Darfur. It added three counts of genocide to the charges against him in July 2010.
The United Nations says 300,000 people have died in the conflict and 2.7 million have fled their homes. Officials say there has been an uptick in violence in recent months.