Thursday 14 February 201908:52 am
I never thought when I decided to write this article that it would coincide with a teacher’s death in detention. My preoccupation and my hesitation to choose between this subject and others had delayed the article, until it was chosen for publication by the editor. Two days later, while I was checking up on the news of the revolution, I stumbled upon the face and obituary of Ahmad al-Khair. He was a teacher. Al-Khair along with an engineer and a doctor have become the symbols of the peaceful protests that can get you killed. This article transformed into an apology and a source of comfort to address my inner turmoil. Contrary to the slogan, “a bullet doesn’t kill, it is the silence of men that kills,” which is shouted during the protests, live bullets actually kill. It killed the young doctor, Abu Bakr, while he was trying to convince the soldiers that he was treating injured individuals in the house they came to raid. It killed that engineer while he was walking towards the security officers with his hands in the air, but was met with a bullet. The metaphoric act of killing described in the slogan has, for the last three decades, burdened the Sudanese people who chose to remain silent in the face of Omar al-Bashir’s injustices. Men’s silence is a chronic disease that destroys both their present and their future. I don’t fear death itself, but I am certain that joining the anti-Bashir protests can expose me to his snipers’ bullets, bullets that in state media are attributed to “unidentified individuals.” The time required for the bullet to kill me would allow my mind to indulge in positive thoughts, and make me appreciate my life. I would die in a good way. Death only hurts the living. I would think of my family, my mother in particular, and my friends in general and feel sad for the temporary pain my absence would cause. To me, death means an end. It is a deep desire within me. And if my end happens to come sooner, let it be beautiful and with dignity. With that said, I assure you my dear reader that me refraining from joining the protests has nothing to do with my survival instinct. Actually, I would gladly take to the streets, if the regime’s monsters guarantee an instant death at the moment of my arrest.
Torture in detention centers Who can guarantee my death prior to detention? I honestly choose death over detention where they beat, cuss and brutally attack detainees. Verbal and physical violence varies according to occupation, gender, cultural background, residence and place of detention. Doctors are at the highest risk of getting detained. Their repeated and successful strikes will never be forgiven by the regime, nor them being at the core of the Sudanese professionals’ bloc that is leading the revolution. Men endure the biggest share of physical violence. Women, on the other hand, are terrorized by words and threats. This doesn’t mean that women do not get beaten. They would rather use creative methods to subdue women demonstrators such as cutting their hair, and it is no secret how precious hair is to women. Years ago, when Sudanese security officers arrested my brother, the Sudanese people, apart from a few politicians and activists, were not yet in a revolutionary state. In 2012, following the quelling of the short-lived uprising, the masses returned to their normal lives, whereas for me, I was spending long hours searching for any news, leak, piece of information or even a rumor about my brother. I remember the terror I felt upon seeing the picture of a man with whipping marks on his back. His skin color was just like my brother’s, and so was the width of his shoulders and his height. Without seeing his face, without having proof one way or another, I was convinced that this man was actually my brother. Could you imagine my despair and lack of means? How could I help him? If I go to them, they would detain me too. Who would I resort to? What should I do? Will my brother return? And in what shape? I dreamed of him a lot during that time. In my dreams, I was greeting him with a hug, but he was pushing me away in pain. Torture is sorrow, a combination of physical and spiritual pain. Only the thought of what my brother and thousands of other detainees have and are still going through every day during the past and current protests fills me with humiliation, incompetence and weakness. Follow Twitter, #Sudan_Revolts and Sudanese Twitter users and have a look at the images. The released detainees post pictures of their bodies covered with blood, bruises, and wounds, and their shaved heads whilst raising the V-sign indicating the continuity of the revolution and their resilience. After being released from his narrow inhumane cell where he had spent months, my brother told me: “I used to fear detention, whereas now, what my detention has actually accomplished was removing that obstacle.” Could this be what the detention experience did to the revolutionary youth? Did the detention phobia disappear? Or is it something that changes with people?
My fear of detention I am fully aware of my psychological makeup. I am fragile from the inside and would not be able to hold steady and survive in detention. I have barely survived my depression during my brother’s detention, I used to vent by crying, or listening to his favorite singer. I would pass by his room or drown in the darkness of my room imagining what was happening to him, which often triggered a silent fit of weeping. There are also minor and banal reasons for my fear of detention, such as the cleanliness of the cell, the type of food, and the availability of personal space. Although some detainees are being held in prisons, they are not actually prisons. These places were specifically built to defeat the human will. Your mere presence there, without being subjected to physical harm, would hurt you psychologically. In the 1990s, al-Bashir prisons were known as ‘ghost houses’ where many terrifying stories had happened and peaceful opponents had been tortured to death without getting a trial. I fear these detention centers so much that I can’t find the courage to learn the details. For instance, upon his release, I asked and checked if my brother was okay, but I didn’t insist that he tell me everything that had happened to him. He had briefly told us his story to comfort us. Despite my habit of trying to find banned books in Sudan, I didn’t even try to find the famous ‘Spider House: Unraveling the Secrets of Sudanese Islamist Security’ book which was banned by the authorities for uncovering the truth behind the ghost houses. My heart can’t endure all that violence. The teacher has died in their custody. He wasn’t the first but I hope he would be the last. What hurts about his death was that it wasn’t caused by a bullet penetrating his organs and killing him, but rather by kicks, hoses, and God knows what else. Long hours of humiliation and anger where you don’t know when the relief of passing out will save you. And when do those criminals ever get tired? It is going to be an ugly death. And if you get released alive, when will you forget? When will the wounds of your soul heal? How will you be able to forgive life? I can’t join something that might lead me to detention. I fear that I can’t endure the humiliation and the pain.