KHARTOUM, August 20 – A Sudanese court sentenced to death 12 alleged Darfur rebels on Wednesday, bringing to 50 the number condemned to hang over an attack on Khartoum and defying criticism from Amnesty International.
A special court in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman found 12 presumed members of the Justice and Equality Movement — the Darfur rebel group that launched the assault in May — guilty under criminal and counter-terror law.
Judge Hafez Ahmed Abdallah ordered the release of four other suspects who had been on trial and transferred the cases of four others to juvenile courts, declaring that they were under the age of 18.
Defence lawyer Adam Bakr slammed the sentences, denounced the special courts as anti-constitutional and vowed to appeal within the seven-day limit.
"I’m not happy with this decision," he told AFP.
On Monday, Amnesty International denounced a slew of trials held in special Sudanese courts and accused the government of holding hundreds without charge in connection with the May 10 attack on Khartoum carried out by JEM.
The British-based rights group denounced the special courts as a "travesty of justice", saying some of those sentenced met their lawyers for the first time at trial, and that several said they were tortured and forced to confess.
Sudanese defence lawyers argue that the special courts violate their clients’ legal rights. The United Nations has also voiced concern, calling for comprehensive appeal procedures and on Khartoum to abolish capital punishment.
Among those sentenced is Abdul Aziz Ashur, half brother of JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim.
Under Sudanese law, any death sentence must be ratified by an appeals’ court and the high court. All death warrants must then be signed and approved by President Omar al-Beshir.
The world court prosecutor has requested an arrest warrant for Beshir for allegedly ordering his forces to annihilate three Darfur ethnic groups, masterminding murder, torture, pillaging and using rape to commit genocide.
More than 222 people were killed when rebels thrust upwards of 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) across the sandy expanse from western Sudan’s region of Darfur to Omdurman, just across the River Nile from the presidential palace.
The United Nations says that up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since the conflict in Darfur erupted in February, 2003. Sudan says 10,000 have been killed.
The war began when African ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime and state-backed Arab militias, fighting for resources and power in one of the most remote and deprived places on earth.