Melbourne stands in solidarity with Sudan

28 June 2019

On Saturday, 22 June, hundreds of Melburnians braved the cold and rain to spread awareness of the civilian massacres that are taking place in Sudan.

They met at the State Library, where members of Australia’s Sudanese community spoke about the violence that has broken out in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Led by the six rally organisers, the group of around 500 protestors then marched up Bourke Street to the steps of Parliament.

After seeing images of the violence on social media, organiser Nabil Feki decided to create a Facebook event called “Stand in Solidarity with Sudan”. He reached out to Ammar Yonis, a childhood friend and a student at the University of Melbourne, to try to get the event off the ground.

“We just put out the page, we started sharing it to all our friends, and it just started to take off,” Yonis said.

“People saw what’s happening but didn’t really know how to help out, and when they saw the opportunity to get involved, that’s when people started reaching out to us.”

In April, Omar al-Bashir was removed from government after 30 years of presidency, in a coup staged by a group known as the Transitional Military Council (TMC).

This came after months of protests from Sudanese civilians, who hoped that the TMC would usher Sudan into an era of civilian-led democracy. However, when the pro-democratic rallies continued after the coup, they were met with brutal resistance from the new military council.

The TMC has aligned itself with a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which was formed during al-Bashir’s presidency to quash rebel groups throughout Sudan. In 2015, Human Rights Watch reported that RSF forces “repeatedly attacked villages, burned and looted homes, beating, raping and executing villagers” in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Speaking before the crowd on Saturday, Amnesty International’s Mario Santos confirmed that the military council met with RSF leaders on June 2, giving them the all-clear to attack the peaceful pro-democratic demonstrators outside the TMC’s headquarters in Khartoum. Three days after the June 3 massacre, the Central Sudan Doctors Committee reported on their Facebook page that “The final death toll is 113, expected to be much higher”, and “more than 500 were injured”. There have also been reports of at least 70 rapes by RSF soldiers in the days following June 3.

Sudan’s internet services have since been shut down, and media outlets have been censored by the TMC, leaving civilians without a voice to call for help.

In response to the blackout, there has been a strong push on social media from the Sudanese diaspora, many of whom have criticised mainstream Western media for failing to give the ongoing struggle for democracy in Sudan the coverage it deserves.

It was also on social media that the pro-democratic movement gained its most well-recognised symbol: the colour blue. Mohamed Hashim Mattar was of one of the alleged victims of the RSF massacre. After his death, his family and friends posted photos of his favourite colour on their social media accounts, which quickly spread throughout the internet, with the hashtags #BlueForSudan and #TurnTheWorldBlue going viral on Instagram and Twitter.

Protestors on Saturday were encouraged to wear blue, and at the end of the day, blue balloons were released from the steps of Parliament.

Along with Mario Santos, the speakers included spoken word poets Manal Younus and Flora Chol, chairwoman of the South Sudanese Community Association of Victoria Achol Marial, and Mazin Bashir, who was in Khartoum in the months leading up to the June 3 massacre.

The University of Melbourne Student Union People of Colour (PoC) Department promoted the rally and shared resources on their social media pages, including links to donate to the medical aid fundraisers that have been set up by members of the Sudanese diaspora.

PoC Officer Farah Khairat said, “Like everyone else outside of Sudan, the main things we can do to help is to raise awareness, put pressure on our governments, donate, and spread information.”

“Most importantly however, our main role is to elevate the voices of the communities in need,” Khairat said. “We will continue to do this and continue to support all communities in need because we know that international issues affect people within our community here too.”

Ammar Yonis believes that the rally achieved its goal.

“It was a success, because it was very family friendly, everyone came out… even kids were here, and that made me really happy to see young people to witness this… they know they have a voice.”

As for the demonstrators back in Sudan, Yonis hopes that they will see the images and videos from the march as a message that “you’re not alone”.

“If you see people across the globe standing up for you, it would push you to keep fighting for what you believe in,” Yonis said.

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