A Visit to Kober Prison

Any human rights activist who has worked on Sudan is familiar with the name Kober prison, the century-old British building which was ‘Cooper Prison’ for its first half century, and which has ‘graduated’ entire classes of Sudanese political leaders, from the early nationalists to the entire parliamentary, trade union and civil society leadership in 1989-90. Physically, much of the prison has changed very little over the decades and possesses a colonial-era aura. The buildings are brick, with the names of generations of prisoners carved into the stucco. It is clean. The prison authorities have a tradition of professionalism—they endeavour to stick to the rules, which include treating prisoners with basic respect. If anyone is arrested, his relatives are relieved when he arrives in Kober, because then he is relatively safe—it is in the security centres between detention and being formally remanded in custody, that the risk of abuse is greatest.

Two days ago, I passed through the gates of Kober for the first time. One of the immediate and tangible outcomes of President Thabo Mbeki’s mission to Sudan was that the government agreed to a request for members of the Panel to go and visit the JEM members, including leaders, held in Kober. They were captured during the attack on Omdurman last May. More than one hundred of them have been tried and sentenced to death. Among them is Abdel Aziz Usher, the brother of Khalil Ibrahim, and a number of other political and military leaders of the movement. Trying to secure a prisoner release has been a major concern of the Darfur mediation team headed by the former Burkina Faso Minister of the Interior, Djibril Bassolé. When Mbeki met with Khalil, Khalil made a specific request: could he arrange a visit to see his comrades in arms and check up on reports of ill-treatment. Until we visited on 24 June, there had been no official visit to the prison and nobody had been able to see the prisoners in private.

The Panel delegation was led by Judge Florence Mumba. We saw all the 104 prisoners in the shade of a rakuba in the prison yard, and we saw their cells. We asked to see six of the prisoners, by name, in private, for an hour. Among them were Abdel Aziz Usher and five other leaders. The prison authorities complied, and we had the chance to talk about their detention, trials, prison conditions, and political aspirations, without intrusion.

They had serious complaints about the fairness of their trials and their treatment under interrogation. They said that a number of those detained and convicted had nothing to do with JEM, but had just been caught up in the sweeps after the failed attack.

Life in prison is hard. The hardest parts are the shackles that each condemned man wears around his ankles, the heat and overcrowding, and being locked in the cells from 5 pm to 7 am without respite. But the prisoners were not tortured, had decent food, basic health care, two visits per month (supervised), and could socialize amongst themselves. They were also in good spirits, knowing that they were a major point of the Doha negotiations. The prison authorities also follow an implicit code whereby they treat political prisoners with a certain respect—after all, Sadiq al Mahdi, Ali Osman Taha, and Mulana Mohamed Osman al Mirghani have all been inmates, so who knows what the future holds in store for today’s prisoners?

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5 thoughts on “A Visit to Kober Prison

  1. Could you inform us which of the JEM leaders you were able to meet and whether they had any specific demands or messages?

  2. We met with those individuals we requested to meet. Their message was that the AU Panel should help realize the rights of the Darfurians and there needed to be a solution to the conflict.

  3. could you please let us know if you got any information from the detainee regarding people dead under torture, the torture and what do you mean by saying (But the prisoners were not tortured) do you meant they tortured first and interrogated and then transferred to prison, and what the brother of khaleel said.
    many thanks

  4. Amnesty’s Sudan Report at Chatham House
    One-Sided and Out of Context

    Is there a “conspiracy” against Sudan? The answer is a resounding “No” because conspiracies are hatched and shrouded in secrecy. What is planned for the Sudan is undertaken openly and in an abrasive manner. Several “fronts” are manipulated, the most famous (and infamous) is Save Darfur Coalition and its offshoots like “Enough” which seem to have a hotline to the White House regardless of the name of the occupant.
    They have challenged, hounded and eventually “forced” out of office Dr. Andrew Natsios, G. Bush’s special envoy to Sudan who upon return to Georgetown University – has become one of the most credible advocates of engagement with Sudan and exposure of the machinations of what he called “extremist” advocacy groups.
    The groups are now repeating their strategy with President Barack Obama’s full time envoy Major Gen (ret) Scott Gration. The successes he scored in the course of 20 visits to Sudan have alarmed the enemies of stability and peace. They are now targeting Gration in a relentless campaign of spin, hoping to force him out too.
    Some of the celebrities who are exploited by these extremist advocacy groups act out of good intentions and altruistic idealism. The likes of Mia Farrow and George Clooney do not know enough about Sudan or Darfur to express “expert opinions” about the complex, socio-political crisis in Darfur. Dr. Richard Cockett has written in a recent book about Darfur and Sudan that these celebrities have done more harm than good by simplifying complicated matters.
    Ignorance, is however, no defence in the case of Amnesty International which recently joined hands with Save Darfur Coalition in the “Sudan 365″ group. The same trend was highlighted in a Chatham House event on Monday 4 October 2010 entitled: Agents of Fear: The National Security Service in Sudan. In a departure from the principle of “balance” (adhered to laudably by the BBC) the Embassy of Sudan was not asked to join the panel . The panel itself consisted of two Sudanese opposition activists, and a representative of Amnesty International. It was chaired by the Rift Valley Institute’s director John Ryle.
    Happily, attendance was not impressive. Rows of empty seats gaped at the hapless panellists.
    The timing of the Chatham House presentation was unusual. It came weeks after an important UN Human Rights Report about Sudan, covering the period June 2009 to April 2010. The report by Mr. M. Shandy praised judicial and legal reforms in Sudan, the signature of several International Agreements (e.g. Rights of the Child), the Press and Publications Law, the Human Rights Commission Act, The Referendum Act, Elections in April which included the empowerment of women).
    The UN report did raise some concerns and make recommendations for improvement; but it did not do so out of context. It acknowledged the progress made and recorded the “plus” for Sudan.
    By comparison, Amnesty International’s position on Sudan is flawed, because it is fixed and out of context. The UK academic Dr. Tara McCormack described it (when reviewing Amnesty International’s 2010 report) as black-and-white.
    Amnesty International never praised Sudan for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement or the Darfur Peace Agreement. It campaigned for the release of political prisoners and the return of political exiles. The prisoners (like Sadiq Al Mahdi) are now free and actively leading their political parties. Communists are no longer “underground”. They have offices and a newspaper. Even fat cat cloned human rights “organisers” that are financed in order to subvert their homeland from inside are allowed to function freely. Politicians who were exiles in the UK (and had contact with Amnesty International) have now returned home and are ministers and top officials.
    All this context is ignored by Amnesty International which is in a time warp about Sudan.
    The discrepancy in Amnesty International’s attitude vis a vis Sudan is the fact that (unlike Mia Farrow, George Clooney or the other celebrities, who wreak havoc out of ignorance in the Darfur China shop) Amnesty International is knowledgeable and well-informed. Amnesty International’s interim Secretary General Claudio Cordone said in May 2010 that “powerful governments are blocking advances in international justice by standing above the law on human rights, shielding allies from criticism and acting only when politically convenient”. Mr. Cordone has summed up Sudan’s criticism of the International Criminal Court (and the lame outmoded international order which gave birth to it). Powerful states that do not recognise the ICC, agree to unleash the ICC against Sudan’s stability by targeting the leader who signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Darfur Peace Agreement!!
    The paradox is that, despite Cordone’s statement, Amnesty International supported the ICC’s destructive attitude, which shows contempt for millennium old traditions and cultures that seek reconciliation and compensation in political settlements among conflict affected group that are bound to live together in the future.
    We know of course that Mr. Cordone was not confirmed as Secretary General!
    To sum up, the badly attended Chatham House panel on Sudan was not an AmnestyInternational success. On the contrary, it exposed A.Intern ational’s Achilles Heel: lack of objectivity and making concessions to the unjust world order it was formed to challenge.
    What is sad about Amnesty International’s “domestication” by the masters of the International Order is that it takes place at a time in which even “establishment writers” are beginning to question the farcical anti-Sudanese policy. An example is P.L. Knopf’s article callng for “Intensifying Diplomacy on Sudan” in view of “the difficulty in addressing the situation posed by the ICC’s indictment of President Omar al-Bashir.” Many European diplomats admit (off the record) that the maverick ICC prosecutor (who is unelected and unaccountable) has gone too far, confirming the validity of reservations that stopped the US from joining the court.

  5. my father was arrested in 2004 and sent to kober prison, as political prisoner and until now his there, please be inform that his was l.colonel in Sudanese Army, please visit my Dad and let human rights to know about him

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