KHARTOUM: Sudanese authorities Sunday arrested Islamist opposition leader Hassan Al-Turabi and closed down his newspaper a month after the country’s first competitive polls in two decades, party officials said.
"At around midnight (2100 GMT Saturday), a group of security officers arriving in three cars, came and took Hassan Al-Turabi from his home," his secretary Awad Babakir told AFP.
In a dawn raid a few hours later, authorities confiscated the newspaper of Turabi’s Popular Congress Party and arrested the paper’s editor-in-chief.
"After the arrest of the secretary general of the Popular Congress Party, security authorities stormed the printing house of the daily Rai Al-Shaab and confiscated all copies of the paper," Kamal Omar, head of the PCP’s politburo said.
"Authorities then took over the newspaper offices in central Khartoum and ordered all the journalists to leave," he said.
The paper’s editor-in-chief, Abuzerr Ali Al-Amin told AFP by telephone that he had been detained.
"At around 9:10 am (0610 GMT), a group of security and intelligence officials came to my house, put me in a car and took me to one of their offices," Amin said.
"They have not told me the reason for my detention and after two hours I have still not been questioned," he said.
The former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement — partners in a coalition government— condemned Turabi’s arrest as illegal.
"The arrest is outside the law, it is rejected. It is a violation of the constitution," SPLM senior member and former presidential candidate Yasser Arman told AFP.
"After stealing the election, (the ruling National Congress Party) should not be stealing freedoms. This arrest exposes their weakness," Arman said. "Constitutional rights must be respected for Dr. Turabi and others."
Turabi, once President Omar Al-Beshir’s mentor but now one of his fiercest critics, had denounced last month’s elections as fraudulent and said his party would not join a future government.
Beshir was declared winner with 68 percent of the vote in Sudan’s first multi-party election since 1986, a vote marred by an opposition boycott, logistical problems and accusations of fraud.
Turabi, an iconic Islamist leader, was last detained in January 2009, two days after he urged Beshir to surrender to the International Criminal Court. He has frequently been arrested by the authorities.
In March 2009, the world court issued an arrest warrant against Beshir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the war-torn western region of Darfur.
The seven-year conflict there has left 300,000 people dead according to the United Nations, though Khartoum puts the figure at 10,000.
Turabi did not run in the country’s presidential race himself. The PCP was instead represented by Abdallah Deng Nial, a Muslim from the mainly Christian south.
"The voting and the counting process are fraudulent," said Turabi two days after the elections ended on April 15.
"We will take the matter to court and if the judge does not rule in our favour, we may have to use other alternatives than the ballot boxes," he added.
Beshir’s victory had been virtually guaranteed by the withdrawal of his two key challengers in the presidential race, including Arman and the last democratically elected leader and head of the Umma party Sadiq Al-Mahdi.
The elections also included polls for parliamentary and state representatives as well as for the president.
Observers from the European Union and the Carter Centre — headed by former US president Jimmy Carter — said after the five days of polling ended that the election had failed to reach international standards.