By Ali Mirghani
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – A Sudanese court sentenced 29 members of the national intelligence service to death by hanging on Monday over the killing of a teacher in detention in February during protests that led to the overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir.
The group that spearheaded the protests welcomed the ruling, the first to deliver sentences over crackdowns on demonstrations in the months before and after Bashir was toppled in April.
Prosecuting members of the intelligence services is seen as a test of how far Sudan’s transitional government will go to erase Bashir’s legacy and challenge the security apparatus.
“This day is a victory for justice, a victory for all Sudanese and a victory for the revolution,” teacher Ahmed al-Khair’s brother Saad told reporters after the verdict.
Thirteen defendants were sentenced to prison terms and a further four were acquitted in the ruling, which could face several stages of appeal.
The judge listed 27 agents from Kassala, capital of eastern Kassala state, who received death sentences. Another two agents from Khashm al-Qirba, the town in Kassala state where teacher Khair was killed, were also sentenced to death, a lawyer said.
Khair’s death became a rallying point during 16 weeks of protests against Bashir’s rule. His family said security officials initially claimed he had died of poisoning, though days later a state investigation found he had died of injuries from beating.
Hundreds of people rallied outside the court in Omdurman where the verdict was delivered on Monday, some waving national flags or holding pictures of Khair.
They broke into celebration after the ruling. Security forces fired tear gas to try to clear the rally and reopen roads. One woman, who suffered from asthma, died after inhaling tear gas, according to a doctors’ committee linked to the anti-Bashir protests.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded protests against Bashir, said the trial restored confidence in the judiciary.
“With this ruling, the revolution will have paid off its debt to the martyrs a first time, to be followed as many times as the number of martyrs,” it said.
The SPA is an important member of the Forces of Freedom and Change coalition that struck a three-year power-sharing deal with the military in August.
Dozens of protesters were killed during crackdowns on the protests against Bashir, and dozens died when security forces cleared a sit-in pushing for further change in June.
(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Nick Macfie)