Can a YouTube Clip Get Under a Dictator’s Skin?
Belarusians Out On the Street After Rigged Elections, from Twitter user @ljoksa
With just under two weeks until citizens vote on whether the South will split off from the North and form its own nation, tensions are rising in Sudan.
Adding to this is a video (below) of state security forces publicly beating a Burqa-clad woman. But, considering the low level of connectivity in Sudan, how much influence could a YouTube clip really have?
I spoke with a Khartoum-based activist over Skype this weekend.
What’s it like in Khartoum right now?
The tension is now increasing here in Khartoum. This morning there were protests against the government. There are a lot of things happening in the North - food - bread, sugar - is getting more expensive. Our currency is losing value. A lot of Sudanese people are getting away from the capital (Khartoum).
People don’t realize how many members of the SPLM are in Northern Sudan. The NCP has told them that they’re not allowed to be here, and people are worried that there’s going to be clashes between the two parties.
Does it seem like more people are protesting on the streets today than in previous months?
Yes - more. I mentioned the economic situation. And it will be worse after the referendum...a lot of poeple will be getting their money out of the country. The separation is a very big deal for us. A lot of people that were part of the war between the South and North are calling for unity. People are angry.
How much of the anger that you’re seeing on the streets is related to the video of the woman getting flogged?
One of the things making people in the North angry is the public order law. Every day you see in the police stations people bringing in women on the public order law. And Bashir has said that if we are split into two countries, the North will be a Muslim country under Sharia law. He threatens the people of Sudan, saying things like “If you have any problems with the public order law, you’re not a Muslim.”
This video of the girl getting flogged is related to the public order law because she was accussed of violating it. It shocked us all. It's in all the mobile phones now. People mainly saw it on their mobiles. Some also saw it on television, or on satellite channels like Al-Jazeera.
How much of Sudanese society do you think has been affected by this video?
I would say only 2 or 3 out of every 10 people I see on the street have seen the video, but 9 out of 10 people that I see have heard about the video. All are disgusted with it and are more against the regime than they were before.
But, in reaction, the government is now starting to tell people that she wasn’t a good person, she deserved it. And it's starting to work, causing less people to stand with her.
Has this led more people in the North to support the split?
No - it is not directly connected to the split. The girl was from the North. It lets people know that the ruling party is doing bad things to our citizens, that there are violations, and that this cannot be Islam.
So it’s galvanizing people against Bashir and the ruling NCP party?
On January 9 citizens will decide if the South will split off from the North. How free and fair can these elections be?
It's a political thing - it's between the NCP and SPLM, if now they agreed to have a coalition government then that would happen, but, no it won't be fair...In the South they don't allow people to walk for unity. The military in the South violates civil rights. Of course, in the North its much worse, but in the South there are also violations. People in the South cannot even mention unity without getting punished.
What are you and your colleagues doing to avoid violence during and after the election?
There is tension around unity versus separation, so we decided to work simply for peace. That’s why we had the Youth Forum for Social Peace (a conference organized last week). The YFSP was an event and is also a coalition with different, smaller youth groups, underneath it.
As the Youth Forum for Social Peace we’ve put together a lot of activities that promote peace over violence - last week we put together a big festival with famous singers from the North and South, and soccer players from the main team in Sudan. They came and spoke about peace. Our message is to accept the referendum, accept the choice of Southern Sudan, and to work against the root problems which brought us to this point: racism, tribalism, and for a center and a constitution that represents all of Sudanese people.
If we don’t solve all those problems, and if we don’t talk about the history of discrimination in Sudan and start treating all Sudanese as equal, then nothing will improve.
What can you do?
- Keep your eyes - and the eyes of everyone you know- on Sudan next weekend. One way to do this is to follow the Satellite Sentinel site and their updates on Twitter. After commercial satellites pass over the North/South border to capture possible threats (i.e. mass movements of displaced people, bombed villages, or other evidence of mass violence), the results are displayed clearly for the public to see. According to the site, "The Satellite Sentinel Project - initiated by George Clooney - combines satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google's Map Maker technology to deter the resumption of war between North and South Sudan. The project provides an early warning system to deter mass atrocities by focusing world attention and generating rapid responses on human rights and human security concerns." The goal is the for the public to put enough pressure on policymakers to spur action against impending mass violence.
- JPMorgan Chase is one of the last remaining United States companies to continue investing in Sudan. It is one of the largest holders in PetroChina, an oil partner with Sudan, holding more than one billion shares of the company. Please tell JPMorgan Chase that to truly stop human rights abuses against women, it must immediately divest its holdings from PetroChina and stop doing business in Sudan.