Deposed Sudan President Omar al Bashir, already on trial over economic crimes during his 30-year reign, faces a possible death sentence over his role in the 1989 coup that removed the democratically elected government of Sadid al-Mahdi from power.
During a busy week where he has tried to build confidence in the judiciary following the ouster of Mr al-Bashir in April, Attorney General Taj AlSir AlHeabr said he had formed a committee to investigate the June 30, 1989 military putsch which was led by Mr al-Bashir.
The committee’s findings will form the basis of prosecution of the Islamic Movement's leaders, including civilians and military personnel, for undermining the constitutional system. The charge has no limitation for time lapses and is punishable by death or life imprisonment.
“The committee has the competencies of public prosecution of military coup perpetrators,” Mr AlHeabr said. It is empowered to call any person to help with investigations and will report back in three months.
The attorney general said he hoped the findings would lay down a marker against forceful take-over of government that has characterised Sudan’s politics. The first coup happened in 1958 just two years after independence when Ibrahim Abboud usurped power.
He was dethroned by Jaafar Numeiri in 1969 who later suffered the same fate at the hands of Mr al-Bashir.
Mr al-Bashir soon cultivated legitimacy with the international community which did not frown at coups then as it does now until he got isolated over his support of terrorist organisations, hostility to a number of neighbouring governments and his ideological leanings to Sharia law.
Sudan Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is now on a diplomatic offensive to have Sudan removed from the US state sponsors of terrorism blacklist, which has limited its ability to attract investments or secure external financing for development in the face of a $55 billion debt stockpile.
Last week, the Sudan Council of Ministers resolved to annul the Public Order Act under which women were severely punished for misconducts as provided under Sheria law. The annulment now awaits the endorsement of ruling Transition Sovereign Council.
The committee will later write a criminal report against the masterminds and perpetrators on the 1989 coup. Besides Mr al-Bashir, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, Nafie Ali Nafie, Ali Al-Haj Mohammed, Ibrahim Al-Sanusi and leaders of the National Islamic Front party led by Hassan Al-Turabi also face charges of undermining the constitutional order.
Legal experts said the turn of events would represent poetic justice for Mr al-Bashir who during his reign exploited provisions on crimes against the state to intimidate and prosecute political opponents as well as civilians.
Article 50 of the Sudanese Criminal Code of 1991 provides that conviction for actions intended to undermine the constitutional order of the country or to jeopardising its independence or unity attracts punishment by death, life imprisonment and confiscation of property.
PREVENT FUTURE COUPS
The opening of the 1989 coup has attracted mixed reactions with supporters, saying the now independent judiciary should issue deterrents to prevent future coups.
Soon after deposing Mr al-Bashir, military generals led by Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, repeated on a number of occasions that they had foiled coups schemed by uniformed personnel and former elements of Mr al-Bashir’s regime.
Critics, however, say the trial over the coup would not be seen as anything more than the new rulers sacrificing their former leader to convince the masses of their reform credentials.
Mr al-Bashir and scores of close allies are already in custody on trials ranging from money laundering to corruption.
"There are more pressing regime symbols that the transitional authority in Sudan should punish such as corruption, the killing of demonstrators, as well as war crimes in the areas of armed conflict, whether in Darfur or South Kordofan,” said Tariq Osman, a political analyst.
Mr al-Bashir has already been indicted by the International Criminal Court over atrocities in the Darfur region. The Hague Court, however, could not secure his arrest while he was in power as countries like Jordan, Kenya and South Africa which he visited waved away obligations to arrest him with claims of his diplomatic immunity.
The sovereign council has blown hot and cold on handing him over to The Hague for trial, with its military wing reluctant and the civil wing keen to honour the international obligation.
However, Sudan is presently not a signatory to the ICC treaty.
The military wing of the Sovereign council is also not sitting pretty after AlHeabr vowed on Wednesday to try killers of protesters at a sit-in outside the military headquarters on June 3. Officially, 63 people were killed when uniformed men fired at protests but independent sources said up to 130 people may have died.
Fingers at the time pointed at the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces headed by the deputy leader of the Sovereign Council Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo for the deaths. The then transitional military council denied the claims saying some protesters were armed.
“I will try the killers even if it was Al-Burhan himself as no one is above the law,” AlHeabr was quoted assuring families of victims of the attack by the Middle East Monitor on Thursday. Hamdok ordered an investigation into the deaths in September.