This week I speak to Sarah, an activist and a new acquaintance of PAX.
Friday, March 8
The protests in Sudan have been going on for almost three months now. Women sometimes make up 70% of the protesters. Despite the recently declared state of emergency, the persistent violence of the regime and widespread sexual intimidation, women continue to take to the streets fearlessly. It is unclear how many women have been arrested since the start of the protests on December 19, but a lot, to be sure, including some we haven’t heard about yet.
The Public Order and Safety legislation in Sudan follows strict Islamic doctrine, and every year tens of thousands of women are arrested, intimidated and beaten by the “Public Order” police for wearing “inappropriate” clothing. I hear through a friend about a Facebook group exclusively for women, called ‘Minbar-Shat’. The group initially wanted to discuss the limitations of the Public Order Act.
Since the protests began, however, the women in this Facebook group have set their sights on exposing National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) agents. Anyone who does something to demonstrators in the streets of Khartoum and is captured on camera runs the risk of being exposed. In the vernacular, the women of Minbar-Shat are now called the ‘Security Service of the Revolution’. My Sudanese friend brings me in contact with one of the founders of this Facebook group, and I speak to her via WhatsApp.
“Salam ya Sarah, I`m so curious — tell me about Minbar-Shat.”
“In 2015, a few friends and I set up this group, actually just for fun. We started with just a few people, and to our surprise we grew to about 10,000 within a week. I didn’t know what had happened to me. Now we’re up to 30,000!”
“We just had fun in the group — gave tips about make-up, shopping, men — you know like friends do with one another, but then lots of it. The Public Order Act makes it almost impossible for women in Sudan to meet each other publicly and freely, so I think that’s why the Facebook group became so popular so quickly.”
“I hear that your attention has gone elsewhere since the protests started?”
“Since December we’ve been active in exposing the members of the security service and police who use violence against demonstrators. All the photos and videos that we get hold of in which the men are recognizable get shared in the group. Collectively, we get as much information about them as possible. The group started out in the first place because it’s so hard to meet other women because of the Public Order law And in the group we were always talking about men anyways — so the step towards exposing those who use violence against demonstrators wasn’t very big.”
“An average post in the group contains a photo or video where an NISS agent or a policeman can be clearly seen, with tag such as ‘come on ladies, whose got the info on this dog.’ Before the protests, women would share photos of men they were going with who were potential marriage candidate and the women would ask for information – hahaha – the group always came through. There wasn’t much we couldn’t find out! Names of family members, addresses, friends, and sometimes even ex-girlfriends, or wives and children. It still works the same way now, and it gives us so much confidence and strength.”
“In December someone shared a photo of an NISS agent with one of the ladies from the group during a protest. She asked if we could help find out who he was. Within a few minutes the group knew almost everything about him – who his family was, where he lived, the colour of his front door. There were some ex-girlfriends of his in the group who knew it all. That’s when it sank in — what we were capable of and what impact we could have. From that moment on, women from the group began to receive more and more photos and videos of men (who, by the way, aren’t allowed in the group), with the same question: who is this NISS agent or policeman and where can we find him?”
“And that impact — what exactly are you talking about?”
“Many of the people working for the NISS hide it from their friends and family. Most of them have mothers, sisters, women and daughters living in the city who don’t know what awful things they do to other women (and men). The exposure brings shame on these agents, and in some cases it leads to social exclusion. That´s very bad in Sudan. Not only that – agents can no longer continue to do what they do anonymously. That’s what frightens them, you see that because nowadays they have takent to wearing masks to prevent us from identifying them. But there will come a time when they will be held accountable for their crimes, and we’re helping make sure of that.”
“Wow, I’m so impressed, thanks for sharing this with me. I still want to ask you a thousand things, can we call again? ”
“Of course, thank you! It is so encouraging for us that people are interested in our story, so please call me whenever you want.”
“Shukran ktir [many thanks] Sarah, take care of yourself and each other. And hold on! ”