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The Trial

Khartoum, Sudan--I am a human rights advocate in a country where human rights are in short supply. Several years ago, though I am also an engineer, I co-founded a volunteer group called the Sudan Social Development Organization, which monitors atrocities by my government, including those committed in Darfur. Naturally, this line of work lands me in trouble with some regularity. Actually, "trouble" is a euphemism. Not long ago, I was detained without access to legal counsel. Thanks to international pressure, I was released without having to stand trial. But my 38-day ordeal is emblematic of what happens to activists who anger the government.

On January 24, 2005, on the federal government's orders, I was roused from my bed at 2:00 a.m. by eight men from the security service and taken to a series of jails. Three days later, I arrived at a prison in Khartoum--320 miles from my home village of Kondowa--known as Abu Ghraib (after Iraq's infamous jail). During this time, I was blindfolded, stripped of my possessions, and moved between several cells until my captors settled on one with a roof fan that, when activated, sounded more like a garbage disposal than a coolant. It had one window (that I could not open) and a sponge mattress. My door opened thrice daily so I could use the toilet, and two men with Kalashnikovs were stationed outside. I was alone.

After ten days without so much as a writ of habeas corpus, I embarked on a hunger strike. Six days into my strike, the government sent an investigator to grill me about an acquaintance who had visited my village (and who had been arrested with me), my membership in a political party, and my friendship with human rights workers and foreigners. He didn't charge me with anything, though he did inquire about crimes I was "planning to commit."

It wasn't much, but I'd at least spoken with someone from the government, so I ended my hunger strike. My guards brought me a cup of black tea and a loaf of bread, but, having eaten nothing for so long, they induced vomiting and diarrhea. When I woke up the next day, I had a hard time swallowing. I requested milk or any other soft food and even offered the guards money for it; they assented, but nothing materialized. I wasn't yet tough enough to eat the meals they kept bringing me, so I threw them out except for the bread, which I soaked in water and then wrung through my turban, using it as a filter. Then I could drink the filtered fluid. I began to gain strength.

But, eight days after my conversation with the investigator, I still hadn't been charged. So I renewed my hunger strike, demanding to be charged or released. This did not please the officer in charge of Abu Ghraib, who told my guards that they would need to prepare my bedsheet for use as my burial shroud.

Three days later, I was summoned before a three-member panel that asked me about my tribal affiliations. The next day, a man arrived who identified himself as responsible for detention sites. He pressed me to end my hunger strike, saying, "The message has been received." When I refused, I was allowed to visit a lower-security prison, where I saw my family members, who were shocked by my frailty. I demanded medical care (by this point, I had lost 22 pounds and was vomiting blood; I was in liver and renal failure). Instead, I was returned to Abu Ghraib. The next day, at long last, I was moved to a hospital, where physicians installed an IV drip and began to stabilize me.

Three of my brothers visited me in the hospital to convey appeals from my family to end the hunger strike. I said I would. Then I was moved back to the lower-security prison for two days and sent to the prosecutor's office, where I was finally charged under Article 133 of the Sudanese Penal Code. The charge? Attempting to kill myself by starvation.

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By Mudawi Ibrahim Adam