Sudanese Opposition Leader Speaks Out Amid Threats

Jun 14, 2019
Originally published on June 14, 2019 9:22 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last week, Sudan's military attacked a pro-democracy sit-in in Sudan. They killed dozens of people. Many political opposition leaders went into hiding. The Internet is still switched off across the country, and militias are patrolling the streets. The opposition, though, says it is regrouping, and it will not let a military dictatorship take hold in the country. Last night, NPR's Eyder Peralta spoke with a man who's become the face of this political rebellion.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: I've been trying to meet Mohammed Naji Alasam for a week now. But his phone is often blocked, or our conversations are cut short by interference we both assume is government eavesdropping. But tonight, it's close to midnight. And he finally agrees to meet at a parking lot in front of a furniture store in Khartoum. One of his guys tells me to get out of my car and into a beat-up Toyota Corolla.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Just - can just be in the car with him or be...

PERALTA: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Come this way, please.

PERALTA: Alasam is at the wheel. The car is on in case we have to flee. And the first thing I ask is, why all this mystery? Why do we have to do this interview in a car after changing locations at the last minute?

MOHAMMED NAJI ALASAM: We have a lot of our people who were killed. And some of them we think were assassinated, actually.

PERALTA: So you think people were targeted.

ALASAM: Yes.

PERALTA: ...At the sit-in specifically.

ALASAM: At the sit-in and outside the sit-in as well. We have some of our people who were killed by snipers at their neighborhoods. And we have a lot of our people who have received threats by SMS, by phone calls that you are going to be killed and so on.

PERALTA: Alasam became the face of a new Sudanese rebellion in January. A young, handsome doctor, he was the first person to publicly declare himself a member of the Sudanese Professionals Association, a coalition of professionals calling for an end to the 30-year rule of Omar al-Bashir. Alasam was quickly jailed, and he wasn't let out until Bashir fell in April. I ask him if he has received threats, and he says it's constant. They've even come during formal negotiations with the military junta running the country.

ALASAM: Not at the negotiating table but, you know, we have breaks between the negotiation session. Some of them would come forward and tell me that we have information that your life is in danger and other members of the negotiating team as well.

PERALTA: So, like, doing you a favor.

ALASAM: Yeah. They are, like, doing you a favor. Please be careful.

PERALTA: The junta has made it clear they will not give up power easily. In a press conference less than an hour before I spoke to Alasam, they accused the opposition of plotting a fresh coup. And they say it is their job to keep Sudan peaceful, so they will use whatever force is necessary to make it so. That's not an empty threat. This regime has led brutal wars in Darfur in Southern Sudan. It put down street protests in 2013. And two weeks ago, security forces killed more than 100 people. Activists say women were raped. Some bodies were thrown into the Nile River. I ask Alasam if the Sudanese people have been scared into submission.

ALASAM: Sudanese people have faced death, and we believe that every Sudanese citizen who has died through the 30 years of al-Bashir regime has participated somehow in this revolution, and the numbers are huge. We are talking about millions. And this is our moment right now, and we cannot stop or retreat. We should continue going forward until we reach our goals.

PERALTA: Even, he says, if that means more bloodshed.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Khartoum. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.