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Sudan's Bashir goes on trial for 1989 coup d'etat

Bashir is in detention in Sudan after he was tried and convicted of corruption charges
Bashir is in detention in Sudan after he was tried and convicted of corruption charges AFP/File
3 min

Former Sudan strongman Omar al-Bashir, who was deposed after a popular civilian protest movement last year, has gone on trial for his role in the military coup that brought him to power in 1989.

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Already serving time for corruption, Bashir could face the death penalty if convicted of heading the coup that took out elected Prime Minister Sadek al-Mahdi 31 years ago.

"This trial will be a warning to anyone who tries to destroy the constitutional system," said lawyer Moaz Hadra, who is behind the movement to try him for the coup.

"This will safeguard Sudanese democracy. In this way, we hope to bring an end to the era of putsches in Sudan," he added.

Bashir will go to court in Khartoum Tuesday morning with 16 alleged co-plotters, including 10 military and six civilians. It includes Bashir’s former vice presidents Ali Osman Taha and Bakri Hassan Saleh, and former ministers and governors, too.

All 16 are charged with crimes using Chapter 96 of the 1983 Penal Code, attempting to destroy constitutional order, which is a death penalty charge. Bashir had abolished this after he seized power in 1989.

However, many believe that the mastermind behind the coup was Hassan Turabi of the National Islamic Front, who died in 2016.

On 30 June 1989, the army arrested Sudan’s democratically-elected leaders, announcing on the radio that it was a coup d’etat. They also suspended a number of state institutions, including parliament, and closed the airport.

'Political trial'

The trial is opening as the post-Bashir military-civilian transitional government has launched a series of reforms, including more rights for women, and has launched peace talks with Darfuri rebels – in part in the hope of being taken off the US terrorism list.

Lawyer Hadra told French newswire AFP that both Bashir and Saleh "have totally refused to cooperate with the commission of enquiry, but they will be present at the court".

"This is the first time someone who launched a coup [in Sudan] will be brought to justice," Hadra added. Sudan has seen three military coups since independence in 1956.

But the other side disagrees. Hashem al-Gali, one of the 150 defence lawyers, say that Bashir is facing a “political trial” and being held “in a hostile environment”.

"This trial is aimed at the Islamic movement and its sole purpose is to present it as a terrorist movement. But we have prepared our defence and we will prove the contrary," he added, saying that the statute of limitations for this alleged crime ran out long ago.

In addition to this latest trial, Sudan has also pledged to hand over Bashir to the International Criminal Court for the international indictment on crimes against humanity and war crimes carried out in Darfur in the western part of the country.

Some 300,000 have died and millions have been displaced as a result of the Darfur conflict.

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