August/September 1992, Page 41
Alleged Turabi Assailant Arraigned
By Daniel Friesen
The trial in Ottawa of Hashim Bedreddin Mohammed has become a cause celebre for his fellow Sudanese political exiles in Canada. The opponent of Sudan's Islamist military government is charged with assaulting Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan Al Tubari on May 25 (see the July 1992 Washington Report). Turabi spent nearly a month in an Ottawa hospital guarded by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police before returning to Sudan on June 20.
Turabi heads the National Islamic Front (NIF), the political party allied with the military government of Lt. Gen. Omar Al Bashir. General Bashir seized power in Sudan on June 30, 1989, but it soon became apparent that Turabi and the NIF were in control. Most important cabinet positions are held by NIF members and, although he holds no official position, Turabi is generally described as the most powerful person in the country.
Turabi's visit to Canada, after speaking engagements in the United States, was highly controversial. The Sudanese community in Canada was "outraged and dismayed" by Turabi's visit, according to a statement by the African Sudanese Association of Canada (ASAC). Peaceful protests were held in Toronto and Ottawa.
Questions were raised in the House of Commons about the purpose of Turabi's visit and his status while in Canada. Liberal MP Jim Peterson demanded to know why the NIF leader was allowed into Canada at all, and why members of the Conservative government had agreed to meet with him. Peterson cited Amnesty International and Africa Watch allegations of "house arrest, torture houses, disappearances, amputations, summary executions, and crucifixions" administered by the Sudanese government.
"Turabi came to Canada as a delegate from his government," said Conservative MP Don Blenkarn. "He came to discuss politics and business arrangements. He has lots of influence in Sudan." Blenkarn added that Turabi and the Sudanese government wanted to do business with Canada in transportation, banking, communications and pharmaceuticals.
Turabi was interviewed at the Ministry of External Affairs in Ottawa on May 25 and was to lunch with Conservative MPs Blenkarn, Allan Redway and Harry Chadwick in Toronto on May 26. The meeting was cancelled when Turabi was hospitalized following the confrontation at the Ottawa airport, where both had gone separately for flights to Toronto. Mohammed had participated in an anti-Turabi demonstration at the External Affairs office shortly before the incident.
External Affairs officials insisted that Turabi was on a "private visit" to Canada and was given an interview with them only because he was "someone of importance" in Sudan. At the External Affairs meeting, officials pressed Turabi about "the restoration of rights and freedoms and the basic right to life and food for civilians," according to spokesperson Rodney Moore.
One effect of the Turabi affair has been to unify the Sudanese exile groups opposing the regime in Khartoum. An international defense campaign has been launched for Hashim Mohammed aiming to highlight the political nature of his action and to call for his acquittal. The "Friends of Hashim Campaign" claims that Mohammed acted on behalf of countless Sudanese who have suffered under the Bashir regime. "We don't support violence," said Hashim Mohammaed supporter Sultan Sultan. "However, most Sudanese would appreciate what Hashim did."
Following a court appearance by Mohammed in Ottawa on July 8 about 40 demonstrators, including exiles from both northern and southern Sudan living in Canada, left the courthouse and marched to the Sudanese embassy. There the protestors condemned the policies of the Bashir government, the NIF and its leader, Hassan Al Turabi, and called for an immediate end to the civil war.
"We want a secular state," said protestor Isam Halim, of Toronto. "We want basic human and democratic rights for the Sudanese people restored."
But a Sudanese diplomat in Canada charged that the Sudanese supporting Mohammed, and not Turabi and the Sudan government, are the aggressors. "Turabi came to Canada on a mission of peace and dialogue when he was violently attacked," said Eltayeb Ali Ahmed, charge d'affairs at the Sudanese embassy in Ottawa. "They are in a free country, they can say what they like. What I am protesting is, how can they support a violent act?"
ASAC Ottawa-Carleton regional director Manock A. Lual responded, "Turabi should be seeking peace and dialogue in Sudan, not in Canada. We support Hashim Mohammed's opposition to the Islamic fundamentalist repressive system advocated by Turabi and implemented by the military junta under his direction."
Hashim Mohammed, who is free on his own recognizance, is to appear again in court in Ottawa on December 4 to face the charges against him. His supporters say they, too, will be there.
Daniel Friesen, a free-lance writer based in Ottawa, Canada, writes on Middle Eastern and African affairs.