CAIRO (AP) — Sudan sentenced nine women to a month's imprisonment for taking part in anti-government protests, an opposition group said Sunday, the latest in a crackdown aimed at quashing almost three months of protests calling for the country's autocratic president to step down.
The emergency court in Khartoum, which handed down the verdict on Saturday, also ordered 20 lashes for each woman but then waived the flogging, apparently giving in to pressure from the women's families rallying outside the courthouse at the time, said the Democratic Lawyers Alliance.
The alliance is part of the Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella organization that has been spearheading the anti-government protests across Sudan.
Hundreds of protesters have been brought before emergency courts across Sudan for speedy trials over violating a state of emergency declared by President Omar al-Bashir in late February.
Sarah Abdel-Jaleel, a spokeswoman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, said the rulings against the women were part of "a series of arbitrary sentences against peaceful protesters" by emergency courts in the past week.
The nine women were arrested just hours earlier on Saturday, a day after al-Bashir ordered that all women detained in the protests be released to mark International Women's Day, March 8.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman to denounce the emergency laws, the Sudanese Professionals Association said.
Footage circulated by activists online showed protesters marching and chanting "the people want the fall of the regime," echoing the popular slogan of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that briefly defied despotism in the region, but never made it to Sudan.
The footage also showed clashes between protesters and security forces in Khartoum's old district of Burri. Protesters hurled stones at the police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, according to activists, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
They said that security forces had surrounded the headquarters of the large opposition Umma Party in Omdurman to prevent a possible march to Parliament. The march was called by the Sudanese Professionals Association.
The Umma Party said in a statement that security forces arrested at least 17 people, including the deputy head of the party, Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi.
The Democratic Lawyers Alliance said an emergency court in Omdurman sentenced al-Mahdi to a one-week prison term, to be suspended if she pays a fine of 2,000 Sudanese pounds ($42). Local reports said she refused to pay. They could not be immediately verified.
Sudan has been rocked by a wave of unrest since December, initially over price hikes and shortages of food and fuel, but the demonstrations quickly morphed into calls for the overthrow of al-Bashir.
Activists say at least 57 people have been killed in the protests. The government's latest tally stands at 30 killed, but those figures have not been updated in days.
Al-Bashir, who seized power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989, insists that only elections, which he intends to take part in, will result in change. Wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court over the fighting in Darfur, he has repeatedly warned that the protests could plunge Sudan into the kind of chaos convulsing other countries in the region.