Sudan army men jailed up to 5 years over ‘coup’

Soldiers hold up a billboard bearing portraits of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum, June 2, 2011.  By Ashraf Shazly (AFP/File)

Soldiers hold up a billboard bearing portraits of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum, June 2, 2011. By Ashraf Shazly (AFP/File)

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.

“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.

He added that the heaviest sentence, five years, went to Brigadier Mohammed Ibrahim who played a role in the 1989 coup which brought the current regime of President Omar al-Bashir to power.

Jali called it a “heavy punishment” for all the soldiers and said the defence team would look at ways of appealing.

But a regional political expert told AFP the penalty was in fact relatively light as they could have faced execution.

“It means that President Bashir would like to calm the situation,” said the expert, asking for anonymity. “The military court took a good decision.”

He said at the start of the trial that the case against them was “not very clear” and the evidence scant, with officials releasing only vague details about the plot.

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 at the time that the plot was linked to hardcore Islamist officers and highlighted turmoil within Bashir’s government, which describes itself as Islamist.

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 chief 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.

Following the plot revelations, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, a think-tank, said that a coup to overthrow Bashir’s crisis-ridden administration could further destabilise the country.

“A coup or a military campaign to topple the regime would be a very dangerous proposition risking even greater violence and further disintegration,” ICG said.

It said Bashir needed to step aside but he was crucial for an orderly transition of power, moves which could be backed by incentives from the international community.

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 to ease tensions, 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 freed seven political prisoners, though the opposition says hundreds are still being held.