Sudan arrests opposition leader al-Mahdi, could face death penalty

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudanese opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi was arrested yesterday on charges including inciting hatred against the state that could lead to the death penalty, his granddaughter said.

Al-Mahdi, a former prime minister in Sudan’s last elected civilian government, is the head of the Umma Party, the most prominent party opposing President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who ousted him in 1989.

The public prosecutor had in the past days already opened an investigation into accusations that he insulted state security forces over a surge in violence in the troubled Darfur region.

“I spoke to my grandfather’s lawyer and he said charges of halting the constitutional system and inciting hatred against the state were added and their penalties range from life in prison to death,” al-Mahdi’s granddaughter Mariam told Reuters.

A government official, who declined to be named, confirmed al-Mahdi’s arrest and said the investigations into him would start today.

In response to the arrest, the Umma party cancelled national dialogue talks called by the president, that were meant to ease tension among Sudan’s political parties ahead of parliamentary and presidential polls due next year, especially over the handling of Darfur.

No firm date had been set for the talks.

It called on supporters to protest against the detention.

Bashir has been working to shore up his power in the face of an economic crisis since South Sudan seceded in 2011, taking with it three-quarters of the once unified nation’s oil output; protests against him and the violence in Darfur.

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