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Opposition Says 200 Arrested, Former Prime Minister Tortured

May 31, 1995

LONDON (AP) _ More than 200 opponents of Sudan’s Islamic fundamentalist government have been arrested, and former Prime Minister Sadiq el-Mahdi has been tortured, opposition leaders said Wednesday.

El-Mahdi, who was overthrown in a 1989 coup, was arrested on May 16, hours after a newspaper published his remarks criticizing fundamentalist leader Hassan Turabi, widely believed to be the power behind the regime.

Within the last two weeks, almost the entire leadership of el-Mahdi’s Umma Party and the Ansar Islamic Movement have been detained _ ``more than 200 of them,″ said Bona Malwal of the opposition Sudanese Democratic Movement.

He said ``at least a couple of thousand″ government opponents have been arrested since the military came to power.

El-Mahdi, who was elected prime minister in 1986, has been held incommunicado, barred from seeing his family, his lawyers, doctors or members of the Umma Party. He has only been able to send one message asking for books, Umma Party secretary-general Omer Nour el-Daiem told reporters in London.

When el-Mahdi said he would only answer questions before a proper judicial system, which the government does not have, he was forced to stand in the sun in temperatures up to 103 degrees, Malwal said.

``This is a situation which brings the northern part of the country dangerously close to another civil conflict of the type the regime has already inflamed out of control in southern Sudan,″ he said.

Southern rebels, who are mainly Christians and animists, took up arms against the Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum in 1983. The rebels are demanding more autonomy and economic and administrative reforms.

The opposition leaders said government allegations that el-Mahdi is conspiring with the southerners against the regime are baseless.

``El-Mahdi is the leader of the opposition movement,″ Malwal said. ``The objective of this movement is to overthrow this regime. El-Mahdi has stated very clearly this will be a peaceful political movement, so it is nonsense to construe that it is a coup, because he has definitely renounced any use of violence to make the change.″

The opposition leaders called on the international community to campaign for el-Mahdi’s freedom and to ensure he is safe and alive. They also demanded the release of all other leaders of the Umma Party and Ansar Islamic Movement.

Sudan’s government, accused by the United States of supporting international terrorism, has been repeatedly criticized by Western human rights groups for arbitrary detentions and torture.

El-Mahdi’s detention was apparently sparked by remarks he made in a mosque that were reported in the independent newspaper, al-Rai al-Akhar. He accused a fundamentalist group led by Turabi of using state money to finance its activities. The nominally independent group, the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference, denies it receives government money.

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