KHARTOUM (AFP) – A group of Sudanese military officers were sentenced to between two and five years in prison on Sunday for their role in an alleged coup last year, a lawyer said.
According to analysts, the case highlights turmoil within the regime of President Omar al-Bashir, who himself seized power in a putsch 24 years ago.
“Today the military court issued its decision about the members of SAF (army) who have been accused of a coup. It gave various jail sentences from five years to two years against nine of the soldiers,” one of their lawyers, Hashiem al-Jali, told AFP.
All were expelled from the military but a 10th accused was freed for lack of evidence, Jali said, after a trial that lasted about three weeks.
Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, described the verdict as “a political statement not a court ruling.”
The heaviest sentence of five years went to Brigadier Mohammed Ibrahim, Jali said of the man who played a role in the 1989 events which put Bashir in power.
He called it a “heavy punishment” for all the soldiers and said the defence team would look at ways of appealing to the military commander.
But a regional political expert told AFP the penalty was in fact relatively light as they could have faced the firing squad.
“It means that President Bashir would like to calm the situation,” said the expert, asking for anonymity.
“The regime is scared about (its) opponents.”
When the trial began he said that the case against them was “not very clear” and the evidence scant, with officials releasing only vague details about the plot.
“The problem is that the people who did this this time were hardcore supporters of Bashir, once upon a time,” Gizouli said, adding that the possibility of an appeal provides room for further political negotiation.
Most of the detainees are close to a vocal group of former volunteer mujahedeen fighters and an elite group within them called Al-Saihun or “tourists for the sake of God”.
They are veterans of the country’s 1983-2005 civil war.
The officers were arrested in November along with the country’s former intelligence chief for targeting “the stability of the state and some leaders of the state”.
Analysts said the plot was linked to hardcore Islamist officers.
Along with a youth movement within the ruling National Congress Party, the war veterans have called for new national leadership and a return to Islamic values because they said the government is tainted by corruption and other problems.
The plotters were detained without any shots being fired.
Authorities also arrested Salah Gosh, who served as national intelligence boss until 2009. As he is not a military officer, his case was to be heard later.
Sudan has experienced at least seven coups or attempted coups in its 57-year history.
Some tension has eased in the country since early March when Sudan and South Sudan finally settled on detailed timetables to implement crucial economic and security pacts, after months of intermittent border clashes.
Bashir announced last week that all political prisoners would be freed as the government seeks a broad political dialogue, “including (with) those who are armed”.
Authorities then released seven political prisoners, though the opposition says hundreds are still being held.
Gizouli said there have also been demands for the release of the detained army men as part of the government’s “reconciliation” process.