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LEBANON: Sudanese activist continues hunger strike over detainees' rights

October 4, 2010 |  7:49 am

The intravenous drip tied to the metal grating of a door to the Sudanese Cultural Center in Beirut snakes down to the arm of 53-year-old Sudanese activist Abdel Meneem Ibrahim, who, 10 days into his hunger strike, is weak but resolute.

"I'm not afraid," he says. "Just very tired."

"And I have the boys to protect me," he adds, looking up from his mattress at the group of young Sudanese men keeping watch. 

The night before, Lebanese security forces came twice to try and arrest Ibrahim, who also accuses the Sudanese embassy of hiring thugs to harass him.

Ibrahim has been camped in front of the cultural center since last week, refusing to eat until his demands are met.

"I want them to release the Sudanese in jail, and respect us as human beings," Ibrahim said.

Specifically, Ibrahim is demanding the release of 17 Sudanese nationals in Lebanese jails who, he says, have completed their sentences but are being kept there illegally. He also wants the Committee of the Sudanese Cultural Club, which is appointed by the ambassador, to be dismissed and replaced by democratically elected representatives who will advocate on behalf of the Sudanese community in Lebanon.

Ibrahim, who has a doctorate in law, has lived in Lebanon for 23 years, working as a human rights advocate and unofficial leader of the country's Sudanese community. In 2007, he was granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which determined that his life would be in danger if he were to return to Sudan after speaking out against human rights abuses there.

Ibrahim says Sudanese have suffered abuse at the hands of the Lebanese security and judicial branches for years while their embassy looked the other way.

He decided drastic action was in order after an incident in June, when security forces stormed a Sudanese charity event in southern Beirut looking for illegal immigrants. The raid sparked anti-Lebanese protests in Khartoum and received minor media coverage in Lebanon, but was played down by Lebanese authorities and the Sudanese ambassador, Idriss Suleiman.

"The ambassador does nothing," Ibrahim said. "He wants me to shut up, and if I don't, he will shut me up. There is a lot of corruption in the embassy."

Human rights activists and people within the Sudanese community accuse the ambassador of putting his own business interests in Lebanon above the protection of his people. Rumors of shady business dealings in Lebanon, including trafficking Ethiopian workers into the country with fake Sudanese papers, have led to widespread suspicion among Sudanese toward their own embassy.

Changing the judicial system and deeper cultural prejudice toward Sudanese could take time, however, and several local Lebanese organizations have taken up Ibrahim's cause as well.

"Even us as Lebanese [non-governmental organizations] are not allowed to visit the prisons," said Ali Fakhri from the local organization IndyACT. "If you are Sudanese and you are arrested here, you will spend several years in jail, regardless of what the actual charge is."

For the time being, Ibrahim's health is stable, but a local volunteer doctor who is tending to him says Ibrahim could become critical in the next few days.

"I'm taking care of him on a porch, but he's an old man with medical problems and he needs to be attended to in a controlled environment," the doctor, a Lebanese physician who asked that his name not be published, told Babylon & Beyond.

Ibrahim, however, is refusing to be taken to a hospital, and, if arrested, is threatening to remove his IV and abstain from water, which would accelerate his deteriorating condition.

"He's adamant to do it on the porch of the cultural center, and frankly, if he were in a hospital, I don't think people would notice him," said the doctor.

 -- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Sudanese activist Abdel Meneem Ibrahim is on a hunger strike until Sudanese in Lebanese detention are released. Credit: Meris Lutz / For the Times