Back in March, I walked with a million other people through London to demand a second referendum on whether or not to stay in the EU. As I was marching, I distinctly remember thinking about how amazing it was that we felt free to criticise our government in such a public way with no fear of persecution, violent or otherwise. It was such a positive protest, with plenty of smiling, laughter and, as far as I could tell, very little fear. It was angry, sure, but that anger was tempered by a sense of wonder that we had all come together to be heard in such massive numbers. We were protesting but, honestly, it was also a fun day out. Afterward, we went to get some noodles, and I flicked through my photos. At no point did I fear for my safety, whether from other protestors, the police, pro-Brexit disruptors or the government sending in the army to gun us all down for speaking out about anger or injustice.
This is very much not the experience that many people have around the world. I have been following the terrible situation in Sudan as much as possible, though it is true that mainstream media outlets are barely covering it. The question of which events actually make it onto the news is much bigger than Sudan, but it is shocking how little attention such a horrific moment is receiving.
As far as I understand, the situation in Sudan is the result of economic hardship, with the mainstream protests starting when the prices of items like bread and fuel rose dramatically in December 2018. However, things got worse, with the government placing a limit on how much money you could withdraw. Prices continued to rise and the protests grew, as people did not have enough food or cash to live. Then the expressly anti-government protests started, though they remained peaceful. The Sudanese people wanted President al-Bashir to resign, as the struggles were the result of his actions.
The measures levied against the people of Sudan became more and more restrictive. Al-Bashir banned protests and allowed the military to be violent toward protestors. He has now stepped down after a successful coup in April, but announced that his replacement would be one of his closest confidants, his defence minister who has been accused of perpetrating war crimes in Darfur. The country is now in the two-year transition also announced by al-Bashir, and the problems are continuing. None of this is what the people want. Now, social media has been banned, and Internet and mobile data have been blocked in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, to make political organising and checking in on each other harder and to prevent information being shared with the outside world. People are being murdered, beaten, raped and tortured, with bodies thrown into the Nile and the military shooting and abusing at will. It is barbaric. And it is the result of protests against a problematic government. It is also worth saying I might have got some of the details and timeline wrong, as finding relevant information online from reputable sources was challenging due to the limited media coverage and I don’t feel like I can quote a Twitter thread as a reliable source.
This is the price many innocent people pay for simply speaking out against their rulers, not just in Sudan but also in countries all over the world. The right to protest peacefully is protected by the European Convention of Human Rights, under Article 10, the Right to Freedom of Expression and Article 11, the Right to Peaceful Assembly, and will fortunately remain applicable to UK citizens after Brexit. Not everyone has powerful legal and constitutional protection in order to express their political beliefs, including negative and critical comments about the standing government.
I am so lucky to live in a country, however broken it may be right now, where I can walk through the streets of the capital and criticise our leaders without fear of abuse or violence. I am lucky that, when I get back from protesting, I can freely post photos from those marches on Twitter. I am lucky that I can write blogs raging about Donald Trump, the Tories and Brexit without fear of retaliation. It is so normal and acceptable to criticise the government, especially at the moment, that it’s easy to forget that not everyone has the same rights as us.
I am glad I’ve been politically active this year and attended protests about causes that matter to me. Numbers do matter, especially with protests that receive significant media attention, and it feels good to stand with like-minded people and be part of fighting back against Brexit and the nightmare that is the Trump administration. However, it is much easier to participate in political action knowing that I am broadly safe while doing so. Yes, there was a police and protestor scuffle at the Trump protest, and we had to run out of the way, but it was very safe – no weapons were drawn, no guns were fired and, as far as I know, no one was hurt.
The military action happening right now in Sudan is horrifying. Many people are fairly contrasting the global news coverage we saw when Notre Dame was on fire with the radio silence about the current Sudanese massacre. Again, I don’t know what is driving major news providers to be so silent, but it highlights how selectively our attention and empathy are focused to certain tragedies but not others. There are calls on social media to bring attention to Sudan, though beyond retweets, donations and this blog post, I guess, I don’t know what many of us can do, sitting here safe in the UK. I hope the violence stops in Sudan soon and that the people of Sudan are able to rebuild their lives under an economic regime that is less oppressive – and I am reminded to be grateful that I live in a country that allows me to protest without persecution.
To try to support those suffering in Sudan, I donated to a gofundme that was promoted on Twitter by a Sudanese activist. If you would like to donate, you can do so here.