Solitary Confinement is Torture
Solitary Confinement is Torture
Khartoum Should Abolish Pre-trial Solitary Confinement
Background and executive summary
The most recent wave of detentions in Sudan, that was triggered by country-wide protests demanding regime change, started in mid-June by university students in Khartoum who were protesting the State’s economic austerity measures. The protests quickly spread to other towns and regions demanding the fundamental rights of justice, freedom and equality.
The Government of Sudan (GoS) reacted to this by arresting and detaining more than 2000 citizens, students, civil society activists, politicians and members of youth movements. In some cases Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) used solitary confinement as a swift solution to contain those known to be effective mobilizers and to break their spirits.
The cases of solitary confinement that came to GIRIFNA’s attention are worth scrutiny for the excessive harshness, inhumane treatment and lasting physical and psychological damage that they inflict upon their victims. In all cases covered by this report, solitary confinement was administered to civilians arrested in connection with the exercise of their constitutional right of freedom of expression and association, with no charges pressed, access to lawyers or fair and transparent trials; and very limited family visits.
Those subjected to solitary confinement spent up to two months in cells with no natural light, sound or air; and extremely limited human contact and lack of stimulation. In some cases the cells were no bigger than three meters in length and width, and had a bathroom inside to limit contact with the outside world.
Detainees recently released from solitary confinement have spoken to GIRIFNA of chronic and lasting physical ailments due to restricted movement and extreme temperatures in the cells. As well as the very poor quality of food served to them.
But what released detainees emphasized most was that the conditions of solitary confinement were intentionally meant to disintegrate them and push them to the brink of madness and suicide. At the time of writing this report some were still suffering from insomnia, anxiety and hallucinations due to an extended period with no external stimulation or human contact.
Testimonies from recently released male human rights defenders and political activists who served time in solitary confinement also reveal that Khartoum is using a new solitary confinement prison facility that is located in Bahari next to the headquarters of NISS’s Political Security Unit. It is being nicknamed by activists as, “Guantanamo-Sudan”. There is some speculation that this same building used to be called “Abu-Ghraib”, and was until recently used as a place to torture detainees. Some testimonies reveal that the same building has now been renovated and upgraded.
However, solitary confinement was not limited to male detainees; women detainees were also subjected to this inhumane practice. This report documents the case of A.K. who spent two and a half months in solitary confinement in Omdurman Women’s Prison.
In this report GIRIFNA uses testimonies from first-hand interviews conducted with released detainees who were held in solitary confinement. This is by no means a comprehensive report of all cases of solitary confinement resulting from the recent protests, as there were released detainees who were not ready to share their experiences. And there may be cases that we are not aware of, especially outside Khartoum and in the States, where human rights violations are known to be worse than in the capital. In some cases detainees requested that their identity not be revealed, and that we use their initials to protect their identity. In one case the location of detention outside the capital could also not be revealed for security reasons.
The testimonies also featured two cases of solitary confinement outside Khartoum. In those cases in the States it was clear that the use of physical torture was more and that the conditions of detention were worse.
The report discusses the recommendations of the UN expert on torture, who in the last year called on all countries to prohibit the practice of solitary confinement, except for extreme situations; and to limit the duration to very short periods of time. However this recommendation, assumes that detainees have in the first place been charged and gone through a fair and transparent trial.
The report also reviews Sudanese laws, international law and human rights standards vis a vis the rights of detainees and the practice of solitary confinement. We conclude that pre-trial solitary confinement is an inhumane form of punishment and, is in violation of Sudan’s Interim National Constitution (INC) as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Sudan has ratified.
We demand that the Government of Sudan (GoS) and NISS promptly stop the practice of solitary confinement, especially in pre-trial situations and in situations where detainees have pre-existing health conditions that can be worsened by solitary confinement.
We also demand that the (GoS) refrains from arbitrary detentions of civilians and political activists. And that it gives detainees immediate access to lawyers, fair and transparent civilian trials, adequate medical care as needed, as well as periodic family visits.
UN Special Rapporteur on torture calls for a prohibition on solitary confinement
A year ago the UN Special Rapporteur on torture issued a report on solitary confinement and addressed the UN General assembly stating that the practice could amount to torture because it may cause severe mental pain or suffering. The Special Rapporteur defined solitary confinement as: “any regime where an inmate is held in isolation from others (except guards) for at least twenty-two hours a day.”
Citing scientific evidence that pointed to a host of lasting mental and health problems that can result from extended periods of social isolation and lack of mental stimulation, he recommended that the solitary confinement be prohibited by member States adding that, “Indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement, in excess of fifteen days, should also be subject to an absolute prohibition.”
He also called for a complete ban on “pre-trial” solitary confinement and its use with juveniles and persons with mental disabilities; adding that solitary confinement should only be used in “very exceptional circumstances” and where its use is legitimate. He urged States to adopt a set of “guiding principles” to implement the practice.
Boshi’s tenth detention
Mohamed Alim (known as Boshi), spoke to GIRIFNA about his eight weeks in solitary confinement. He was arrested from his home in Haj-Yousif on June 20, 2012 and taken to an unknown location that he refers to as “Guantanamo-Sudan”. During this time in detention, his mother was allowed to visit him only once.
Boshi noted that upon arrest he was not subjected to any sort of investigation; nor was he told what his crime was or given access to a lawyer. He was placed in solitary confinement within hours of his detention, “they did not even ask me my name”, he said.
“This is the worse environment a human being can live in; nothing was allowed. The only communication I had with the outside world during these two months were when the guards would tap on my door to indicate the time for prayers, and then when they would push a tray of food through a very small opening in the door. I couldn’t even see them”, Boshi added.
“If they had asked me to replace those two months in solitary confinement with five years in a normal cell with torture, I would have accepted,” he added.
“After 20 days I could not sleep, because I had not seen the sun and did not know what time it was. I was sleeping at the wrong time and eating at the wrong time”. Boshi continued to explain that during his first 22 days in solitary confinement he lost more than 10 kilos, because the quality of the food was very poor, and he had a stomach infection that could not tolerate the bad food.
He elaborated that the food had no taste, was undercooked, had no spices (not even salt), and sometimes smelt bad. “Even in Ramadan the food was very bad and they would bring it to us hours before the time of breaking fast; so it would be cold when we ate it. During Ramadan I was only served beans and lentils.”
“The environment in the cell is set to drive you crazy. The fan does not stop at all. Karrrrrr, karrrrr, karrrr. The sound of the fan, on top of the mental pressure, started to change for me. Sometimes I would hear it as a song…these are the kind of things that can drive you mad.”
“The light in the room was also always on….you sit and you have nothing to do…all my thoughts were negative….when I lost the contact with the outside world, I started talking to myself. It was as if another person existed inside me. Today, when I’m alone, I still hear those voices in my head.”
Speaking about his physical ailments that continued after his release, he said: “ I have problems in my lower back and my right knee, because of the lack of movement during those eight weeks of confinement. Right now I can’t even walk until the corner store without the pain coming back. I think my right knee is ruined for good.”
Although he is getting free psychological support, Boshi explained that he cannot afford the prohibitive cost of his other physical complications, because medical care is expensive in Sudan. And he has no income, since he has lost every job he’s held in the last few years because his employers would fire him after each detention (this is his tenth and longest detention), or when they find out about his political activities.
“There is one thing that gave me a sense of peace [during my detention], and that is my conviction that I am right. And that I have a message to spread, and that this message has a sacrifice that I have to pay. This is the only thing that kept me from going crazy; and that my jailers are afraid of me,” said Boshi.
Mohamed Dia Al-Deen’s fourteenth arrest
Mohamed Dia Al-Deen, the representative of the Baathist Party at the National Consensus was arrested from his house in Omdurman on 23 June 2012. During his two-month-long detention, he was kept in solitary confinement and was taken to the hospital a few times for medical assistance and check-ups. This was his fourteenth arrest by NISS.
“I was isolated from the world..No radio..No sun..I didn’t know what time it was. You get confused in terms of your biological clock. You lose concentration, and the ability to sleep and to eat,” explained Dia Al-Deen.
Talking about the location of his detention, Dia Al-Deen said: “I was taken to the new prison, which is the Guantanamo branch of Bahari city. It is a new prison that we have to speak about”. He continued to describe the facility in which he was held as a circular building composed of four to five floors with cells all around it and, having the “the highest specifications”. He also added that, “Cells are monitored, with no sound or sun exposure and with a toilette attached to them.”
Dia Al-Deen believes that NISS’s strategy in the recent arrests and detentions of activists was different in that it did not focus solely on extracting information, but also on breaking the spirit of activists and revolutionaries by torturing them mentally.
“This arrest was totally different from the last thirteen arrests. It’s true I’ve been to the the ghost houses and seen all forms of torture, but this time the main aim was psychological and mental torture more than physical torture. Although there was no physical beating; I was not beaten, but detention in conditions like this for someone like me who has hypertension and high cholesterol levels led to the deterioration of my health, and I was hospitalized and moved to al Amal hospital where I was treated.”
Dia Al-Deen also complained about the central air conditioning, which was controlled from outside his cell and kept at a very low temperature. This led to his health deteriorating further. After his return from the hospital the air conditioning was switched off. With no natural ventilation in the cell, he suffered from the excessive heat, “I was honestly subjected to suffocation, and it was one of the most unpleasant things I experienced,” he added.
A.K. in Omdurman Women’s Prison
On April 22, A.K. was arrested from her house in Omdurman. A.K. had a chance to escape as her relatives called her and said, “they came to our house thinking its yours and we gave them the address.”
She chose not to, she showered, got dressed and waited. She was taken to the NISS in Shendi where an officer said, “a big cockroach just came in”, interrogated with her for hours about her activities with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Northern Branch (SPLM-N), SPLM-N leaders and members and personal details.
A.K. was then taken to Omdurman Women’s Prison, where she was kept for two months and a half in solitary confinement, and had no idea where she was. She sat in her room, where there is a bed, a Koran and a rug. Her reading glasses were taken from her when she arrived at the prison and kept with the rest of her belongings. As a result of reading the Koran without them, her eyesight deteriorated and she now wears glasses at all times.
She would cut strings from the rug to entertain herself since she had nobody to talk to; and to also count the days to not lose track of her detention period. When asked about solitary confinement, she said, “I told them to kill me with bullets instead of this”.
She had no access to proper food and exercise, a necessity for someone with diabetes and high blood pressure. The doctor recommended a cup of milk per day for her health condition, it was only brought to her once. She rarely had access to an exercise period as recommended by the doctor.
After two months and a half, she was put in detention with other women and found out that she is in Omdurman women’s prison and had some company.
Abdul Hadi’s 42 days in detention
Abdul Hadi Mahmoud Mohamed, is a 26-year old student leader at Kassala university and a GIRIFNA member. He was detained on June 26, 2012 in Kassala and later moved to Khartoum. His family did not know about his location and were not allowed to visit him before 33 days into his detention. In total he spent 42 days in detention, 8 of them were in solitary confinement between Kassala and Khartoum.
Abdul Hadi was held in Kassala for a total of 17 days, at the headquarters of NISS, Kassala State. The building is located in the city center, East of the Karra neighbourhood and North-west of Kassala market.
Excessive torture in Kassala and poor medical attention
At the moment of his arrest Abdul Hadi was subjected to severe beating by three NISS officers with black hoses. This led to injuries to his eye and right shoulder. Although he asked for medical attention, he never received the adequate care until his health started to deteriorate, and after he was moved to Khartoum.
During his detention period in Kassala he was beaten continuously during and between investigations. In one of those torture sessions, he was told to exit his prison cell and that, “we have a party for you”. He was then forced to jump while he was being beaten by a NISS officer with a stick and a thick black tube, and in the presence of nine NISS officers who were cheering. Then two more officers joined in; forcing him to jump and move while he was being subjected to more beating. This continued until he got a blow to his left rib that left him unconscious. For a while they continued to beat him in the same location and spilled water on this face. They then carried him back to his cell. At this point he was bleeding from his right eye.
On his third day of detention in Kassala the Manager of Political Security for Kassala State, Abdul Majid, paid a visit to the prison to inquire about the conditions of the detainees. Abdul Hadi asked him for an eye doctor to take a look at his eye injury, but his request was refused.
Abdul Hadi said that the bad quality of the food and lack of fluids weakened him. He explained that in Kassala the meals consisted of a foul sandwich that was “empty of anything”, and that was served twice a day; once at 10 a.m. and again at 8 p.m. In Khartoum three meals were served, and their quality was poor.
Discrimination and racism in treatment of detainees
During the early stages of his detention Abdul Hadi was beaten for refusing to respond to a question during investigations about his tribal origins. In his third day of detention in Kassala a lieutenant walked into the prison cell and asked inmates for the their names and tribes. After it was clear that Abdul Hadi and another inmate were from the Bani A’amir tribe, the lieutenant told the other inmates, “you may sit, you are the people of the this land”, and he told Abdul Hadi and the other inmate, “you, we will send to Isaias Afewerki”.
Abdul Hadi noted that out of all the detainees in Kassala he was the only one not allowed family visits. “They transferred me to Khartoum without telling my family…suddenly they told me to take my things and get out. They put me on a land cruiser to Khartoum. I didn’t get out until day 33 of my detention, when they finally allowed my family to visit,” he clarified.
Move to Khartoum: Shendi Political Security Unit
In Khartoum Abdul Hadi was held in a building belonging to NISS’s Political Security Unit that is close to the headquarters of the Political Security Unit in Khartoum, Bahary. According to Abdul Hadi, the building seems to have undergone recent renovations. He gave the following description of the building and premises:
The building has high security specifications. It is circular from the inside and square shaped from the exterior, with three floors above ground level. Most of the offices are underground. It has two elevators and an emergency exit. There’s an opening in the middle of the building exposing the sky and surrounded by large lights that are lit at night when new detainees are admitted, as a way to terrorize and disorient them. At the entrance of the building there is an admission office used only by detainees that are being freed. And next to that are bathrooms.
The rooms are three meters in length and width with a bed that is fixed to the wall with screws, and facing the cell’s door. All visitors can see the occupant of the cell by looking through the little opening in the door. The opening is reserved for slipping in food, calling detainees and investigating their complaints.
The building has central air-conditioning, and there was a water cooler in my cell. There are about 16 to 20 cells on each floor; and on average 3 to 5 detainees in each cell. I don’t know about the other cells, but where I was held we were 5 in the cell with 5 covers and two mattresses only, in addition to the bed attached to the wall.
In the building there is a health clinic. Upon arrival new detainees go through investigation, opening of a new file and blood tests. Frontal and side pictures are also taken of each detainee.
The doors of the prison cell are very sturdy and designed with precision. Detainee’s heads are covered when they have to leave their cells for investigations, family visits, health checkups or to be freed.
Deteriorated health condition and hospitalization
Abdul Hadi’s health continued to decline after he was moved to Khartoum. After suffering for a few days from a sharp decline in his blood pressure and a high fever, he was taken to Al Amal hospital where he underwent a lot of tests. When his condition improved, after five days, he was returned to his original detention location. He noted that when he asked for his medical records, doctors at Al Amal hospital and at the prison refused to give him results from any medical tests nor would they share with him details of his condition.
Soon after that Abdul Hadi was told that they were going to release him and that he needs to notify a family member to pick him up. He insisted that he was arrested in Kassala and that they should return him there, but they refused. “The fact that they were so rushed to release me, and not willing to share with me my medical records made me feel that I may have something serious and they wanted to get rid of me. After that I went to a private clinic for medical tests. I found out that I had an infection in the blood and lungs, severe malaria and low blood pressure.”
Solitary confinement period
Abdul Hadi said the following about the days he spent in solitary confinement in Kassala and then Khartoum:
Out of my 42 days of detention, the worse were my days in solitary confinement. The period of solitary confinement in Kassala was harder, because it was accompanied with physical torture and threats. They used to torture other detainees in front to me as a way to scare me. A group of soldiers used to come into my cell to threaten me and insult me with personal and racist insults.
In Khartoum I was sitting in total darkness during the five days of my solitary confinement. I did not sleep at all, because I was expecting them to come in at any moment. They used to come in groups of three and four and knock on the door of my cell… The psychological pressure was huge. I had a lot of bad dreams and hallucinations during that time. When I complained about the darkness I was moved to another cell with five other detainees.
Pressures on Abdul Hadi’s family
When GIRIFNA asked Abdul Hadi what the effects of the detention that are still lingering with him, he said that he was surprised to find out that while he was in detention NISS was calling his mother from different phone numbers and telling her that, “your son will be hanged”, or that, “your son will be sentenced to 12 years”. Abdul Hadi said that they terrorized his mother and she fell into a sharp depression as a result.
A Detention outside Khartoum
A.S, a member of a political party was detained in one of Sudan’s states (not disclosed for security reasons) on 20 June by NISS officers. He was subjected to severe beatings for the first two days of his detention. A.S said that he was only interrogated once during the two-months period.
A.S was detained until 16 August and held in solitary confinement in horrible conditions. He describes the prison cell as half a meter in length and width. The cell had no bed; he had to sleep on the floor. “The floor was covered in pebbles, which made it difficult to sleep…The cell was infested with mosquitoes,” he said.
“It was very hot in the afternoon and very cold at night,” he told GIRIFNA in a phone interview adding that there was one tiny window. The first 10 days, he never left his cell and he used a plastic Pepsi bottle to urinate and a plastic bag (the one he used to get his breakfast in) for feces.
Then, he was able to use the bathroom outside. After the first period, the guards would let him leave his cell and sit in the mosque that is part of the detention facility until sunset.
“The first days in Ramadan were difficult, the food was terrible, then they allowed my family to bring porridge and coffee, which helped me a lot,” said A.S. He was allowed two family visits, the first one after more than 20 days. At one point, he was allowed to leave the detention facility for 30 minutes to go visit his mother who was very sick.
As a result of the poor prison conditions and food, A.S. now suffers from colon complications. Before his detention, he never had colon problems. Also, his asthma condition exacerbated and he is now seeking medical attention in Khartoum.
Solitary Confinement in International Law and in Sudan’s Interim National Constitution
Pre-trial solitary confinement is a violation of Sudan’s Interim National Constitution (INC) as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is ratified by Sudan.
The Bill of Rights within Sudan’s INC clearly states that all rights contained in treaties and covenants ratified by Sudan form an “integral part” of the Bill of Rights: “All rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights treaties, covenants and instruments ratified by the Republic of the Sudan shall be an integral part of this Bill (Article 27 (3) Nature of the Bill of Rights).”
According to INC: “No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (article 33)” and “anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his/her arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him/her” and “Everyone charged with an offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law” (Article 34, I and III, on fair trials).
According to article 9 (1) of the ICCPR, “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”
Additionally, the ICCPR ensures freedom from torture, “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. As well as the right to be told the reason of arrest and the charges, “at the time of arrest”.
Article 9 (3) of the ICCPR guarantees the right of access to a trial, “within a reasonable time or to release”, and provides protection from pre-trial detention as follows: “It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.” The ICCPR also gives victims of “unlawful arrest or detention” the, “right to compensation” (Article 7 and 9 ICCPR).
The testimonies, shared in this report, of released detainees that have spent time in solitary confinement because of their political beliefs and affiliations clearly indicate that the government in Khartoum has a strategy of breaking the spirit of political activists by arresting them in a targeted and intentional manner (as most of them have been arrested from or near their homes), subjecting them to long-term isolation and depriving them of the most basic rights granted to detainees under Sudan’s INC and International Law.
Subjecting political detainees to solitary confinement is consistently happening without a trial or access to lawyers, and is also in violation of national and international laws. Those detained in the States, outside the capital, were subjected to more physical torture, kept in prison facilities that were in much worse condition than those in the capital, and in some cases fed less food. In all the testimonies in this report the health of the detainees deteriorated where pre-existing conditions got worse and new ailments emerged as a result of the poor conditions of the prison facilities, the lack of movement as well as the massive psychological pressures resulting from being deprived of any sort of external stimulation and contact with the outside world.