Following is an account of arbitrary detention and torture
in Khartoum, Sudan as experienced by a British Citizen.
If this can happen to a white, Muslim businessman in the
middle of Khartoum, imagine what they do to black, destitute
Christians who have no voice.
Introduction My name is Louis Istvan Szondy, I am a British and Australian citizen. I was born on 8th March 1963 in London from a Hungarian father and British/Australian mother. I am a specialist in radio communications, specifically adapted to remote areas. First Visits to Sudan My first visit to Sudan was in January 1993 for three weeks. I enjoyed my stay and decided to return and work there. In August 1993 I returned to Khartoum and found employment with an English language newspaper and magazine. First Abduction One evening in late October '93 I was detained and held incommunicado, without being charged of any offence, for two weeks. I was abducted at gunpoint from the house where I was staying in a village near Khartoum. About eight members of the security police (shurta amnya) led by someone I later knew to be Captain Salah, came. He said he was looking for “anything and everything” and started searching. All my belongings were then put in a Toyota pick-up and I was taken with them to their headquarters in Khartoum. No force was used but they were armed and I was not given a choice. They showed me a piece of paper written in Arabic which they said was a warrant but I later discovered that my abductors had signed it themselves rather than having it signed by the required judicial authority. Detention I was taken to the police security building, in Khartoum III. I was allowed to move around the compound although I was always accompanied by an armed guard. I was questioned and told that I was helping them with their inquiries. On the fourth day I still had not been allowed to communicate with anyone by telephone. Seeing a chance of escape while the guard was occupied, I managed to climb over a wall. My freedom was short-lived as I had lost my way and was caught walking round the streets late afternoon the same day. Held in 'Ghost House' I was told by the commander that I was being released and would be taken home. I was in fact driven to the General Security Headquarters, also in Khartoum, and placed in a cell. That evening I was blindfolded and put in a car with darkened windows. A gun was pressed into my side and I was ordered to sit with my head between my legs. I was terrified, since the two men in civilian clothes who took me seemed wild and out of control, as if drugged. They drove at high speed and I did not know what they were going to do with me. They took me to an unknown location where I was placed in a cell in what was not a recognised prison facility. Although I did not know where I was at the time, I was later able to locate the place due to its aerial on a mast, and the direction of Mecca from the prayers. It was in fact very close to the British Embassy in Khartoum and was one of the secret detention centres known as “ghost houses” because they do not officially exist. Torture and Mock Execution I was placed in a cell, one of several around a courtyard. A guard kept asking me the same questions and had an aggressive manner. He became angry when after a while I refused to answer. I was then subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment both physical and psychological. I was deprived of sleep for two or three days. A bright neon light was constantly on and if I went to sleep, the guard would come and ask me questions and throw cold water over me. At last I was taken and lined up against a wall and a mock execution was carried out. Kalashnikovs were aimed at me and the guards pretended to pull the trigger. They were taunting me and I was finding it difficult to function because of sleep deprivation. From there I was taken to an office where many of my belongings were piled on the floor. A man sat behind a desk but did not say anything. I said I did not know why they were doing this to me and asked what I could do to help. I received no reply. After a while I was taken back to my cell. Later this was repeated with a different individual. They did not seem sane. I was then placed in a larger room with about twenty others. By that time I was weak, having become ill from my previous treatment. The other detainees, concerned about my health, asked for a doctor but I was denied medical treatment. After a few days I was moved to another room with about thirty other detainees where I remained in cramped conditions on the floor for several more days. Some detainees had been kept there for several years. Release Thirteen days after I had first been detained I was taken back to the General Security Headquarters where I was informed I would be released and that my belongings would be returned to me the next day. In fact it took several weeks and about one third of my possessions (all the valuable items) were never returned. The reason for my detention was never made clear to me and I was not charged or brought before any court. I had not been allowed to see or even communicate with my family, consulate or lawyer during the entire period. Complaint Subsequently I complained about my treatment to Government officials. They seemed grateful that I had not contacted foreign bodies about my unlawful detention and maltreatment. They promised action but nothing happened. I was privately advised to drop demands for redress if I wished to avoid further problems and remain in Sudan. Work and Return to Britain As I had no return ticket and no money, I continued to live in Sudan and began to work with the External Information Council, in the Ministry of Culture and Information, where I was employed by Abu Bakr Shingieti. I worked for about six months until I left because I was not getting paid and because I realised that I was being asked to simply recycle inaccurate and misleading information. As a result of this situation, in approximately February 1995, I had no choice but to leave Sudan, having obtained assistance with the flight. In June 1995, I set up a limited company in the field of radio communications, Unitel (UK) Limited, registered in England and Wales. I had seen the opportunity to set up my own business in Sudan as there was a marked lack of expertise in the radio communications field. Moreover, I had made many friends there and was planning to marry a Sudanese girl, so I decided in spite the difficulties I had experienced, to "give it a go" once more in Sudan. Return to Sudan I returned in about January 1996 and went about the necessary steps for registering a company for radio communications equipment and services in the Sudan, requiring approval by the Sudanese Security Bureau. Once this last hurdle had been passed, the legal registration of the company took place in October 1996. I was then finally able to set up an office for Unitel in Khartoum and registered in Sudan according to Sudanese law. The company registration number was C/10654. The business started to get orders from aid organisations and both Sudanese and foreign commercial companies, and began to be profitable. I recruited staff and finally formed an honest and professional team. Government Client In about August 1997 I was also approached by a Government department, the Sudanese Federal Government Bureau, headed by Dr Ali Al-Hajj, which had heard about my work and wanted me to work for them as a consultant, checking and recommending improvements to their radio, data communication and computer systems, both hardware and software. Since they indicated that they were unable to pay me adequately for this work, they suggested they could help me to get a license for some walkie talkies to facilitate our installations and repair works. They also volunteered to help me and use their influence if I ever received any problems from anyone acting outside the law. This included Sudanese Security, notorious for being dangerously out of control, with members settling personal scores for friends or against cash on a regular basis. On this understanding I started to work for them around Sudan, though we had no written agreement. When finally I did need their help, they were nowhere to be seen. Second Kidnap On 17th December 1997 I left for a holiday to visit my mother in France. On 2nd February 1998 I returned to Sudan via London and went directly from the airport to my office. I found out that security officers had been calling there for the previous ten days, awaiting my return from Europe. Almost immediately after my arrival, four plain clothes men armed with Kalashnikovs, claiming to be security officers arrived and said I had to go with them. They had no documentation. After my previous experience in 1993 and with the subsequent severe health problems I had suffered, I did not want to go without informing anyone. They refused to allow me to make a telephone call to the communications office at the Federal Government Bureau (our only Government client, see above) or to call a friend who could contact the British Embassy. They pushed me into the back of a truck at gunpoint, and told our terrified secretary Ganet to go home. I was taken to some buildings adjacent to the International Islamic Women's Union in Khartoum where I was forced to stand with my face against a wall and my hands behind my back in the sun for at least an hour before being put in a cell. The conditions were extremely bad. The cell was approx. 2 x 1.5 metres square with a tiled floor. There were no mattresses or other furniture and it was very dirty. Although I was not physically abused, the guards used to come into the cell and beat my cell-mate, a young black teenager, without any reason. The largest of the guards carried out the beating. A tall black man in the neighbouring cell was severely beaten in attempts to get him to talk. They broke his fingers demanding him to hold the bars whilst they did so. He was then beaten severely by as many as six guards in shifts, throughout the day and night, for the next few days whilst I was his neighbour. I later learnt from one of the guards that this man had been found with a gun in the house of the first vice-president Zubeir Mohamed Saleh's house. Two weeks later, Mr Zubeir was killed with many others in an aircraft crash. Business Destroyed I was not informed of any charges against me but was questioned about my business and I co- operated fully. Nevertheless I was threatened with violence. On the third day I was taken back to my office to find some licenses which they wanted to see. The office had been ripped apart and left bare except for papers. Everything I had built up had been destroyed. When I asked to telephone the British Embassy I was threatened and again prevented from doing so. I was then taken back to the cells next to the Women's Union in the center of Khartoum. Threats and Intimidation One day the leader of the men who had arrested me came to the cell and asked for the password to my Psion computer. When I refused to tell him, fearing a set-up, he became extremely angry. I was marched to the office of “the boss” who told me it would be very bad for me if I did not give them the code. I suggested that this would be possible only if the contents were backed up on Dr Ali Haj’s computer as I feared they would corrupt the data and use it against me. They rejected this so I did not give them the code. The guard who took me back to the cell again threatened me with violence and gave me two hours to comply, otherwise terrible things would be done to me. At the end of the two hours, I was taken out of the cell expecting the worst. In fact I was driven to the security wing of Kober Prison where I was held until the 24th, where conditions were far better. I was however still prevented from having any communication direct or indirect with the outside world and had still not been charged with any offence or accused of anything. I was never questioned again. Business Practice I had always been very careful to act within the law in Sudan and had not allowed my staff to become involved in any corrupt practices as many others did, making this an immediate sackable offence. I therefore believe that my kidnappers were frustrated because they were unable to find anything that could serve as evidence of illegal activities. My Mother Intervenes My mother had become aware that something was terribly wrong. My phone and fax were cut off, so she phoned some of our clients to ask them to check at the office to see what had happened. They found two Sudanese in civilian clothes at the door, who assured them that there were no problems and that I had gone away on business. She continued each day to phone for news but was told each time that I had gone to a different destination. She eventually received information that I had been detained and she immediately called the Australian Embassy in Cairo and the British Embassy in Khartoum who intervened with the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enquire about my whereabouts. It transpired that the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not even been informed of my detention, which is required in the event of the detention of any foreigner. This clearly indicates the unaccountability of my kidnappers and the so-called Security Forces in general to the Government of Sudan. It also indicates the personal nature of the kidnap and the power of the individual(s) who organised it. The Sudanese Government have so far been unwilling or unable to do anything about it, despite the seriousness of the crimes committed against me and the negative repercussions which result from this, and have chosen to ignore the issue. Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Intervenes As a result of the intervention of the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which only became aware of my detention on being informed by the British Embassy, the so-called Security must have been under great pressure to either charge or release me. On 24th February '98 I was taken to the General Security Headquarters This was within days of the intervention of the British Embassy. First I was taken to an office, photographed and asked to sign a form in Arabic, which I could not understand. I was told it said I agreed not to talk about what had happened to me in detention or to do anything against the Government. It seemed to be a standard form. I was then taken back to the cells adjacent to the Islamic Women's Union and placed in the smallest and filthiest dirt-floor cell with another teenager. There was barely room for us both to lie down. This was the same cell previously occupied by the alleged would-be assassin of Zubeir Mohamed Saleh, now no longer there. I was then informed that I was to be deported and that my company assets would be confiscated. I was told that my personal possessions would be returned to me, although this has not in fact occurred. Illegal Deportation On 25th February '98, I was taken to a room where a tall dark man spoke to me in English and a cameraman videoed me for several minutes. The man told me I was to leave and never return, and wanted me to say I understood this. I did not, and asked why. He said it was “a message from the top”, repeating this each time I asked for the reasons for my detention and deportation. He seemed anxious to have a videoed record of my agreement to all the wrongs that had been done to me, my deportation and commitment never to return, presumably for the benefit of the person(s) behind my ordeal. Finally he became extremely angry at my persistence and shouted "you have carried out activities which would normally get imprisonment for 50 years!" I demanded to know what these activities were, at which he became even angrier refusing to answer my question, shouting yet again "this is a message from the top." He then ordered me outside, where I was videoed for a further five minutes from all angles before being placed back in the cell. That night I was taken directly to the airport and put on a plane to Cairo with little more than the clothes I was wearing and a few personal items. On arrival I contacted the Australian embassy who arranged for me to be flown back to London the following day. Reasons for Detention and Deportation Although I was questioned several times and a statement was taken from me, I was never informed of the reason for my detention and I was told only that I had carried out "illegal activities" the nature of which were never specified. I was never charged with any offence nor brought before a court, nor was I permitted any contact with a lawyer, family or the British Embassy representing Australian interests in the Sudan, despite repeated requests. During my detention the office of my business had been raided and stripped bare and no property, whether business or personal, has been returned to me. In the months that followed, the British Foreign Office demanded an explanation from the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as to the reasons for my detention and deportation. They were told that I was "believed to be operating an illegal communication station." The very nature of our business was the sale, repair and installation of communications equipment. The licenses confirming the right to carry out this business had been clearly visible on the walls of the office when I had been taken away on 2nd February '98. Secondly, the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs alleged that I had been already deported in 1995. This was another amazing assertion given that the very license for my company to be registered in Sudan had first to be approved by State Security who know full well who is on a list of persona non grata, as does the Sudanese Embassy in London, and I had never been refused a visa to Sudan. Moreover, to this date these allegations have still never been put to me, so were presumably for the sole benefit of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to try and justify the barbaric and shameful activities of the Sudanese State Security. Recognition and Responsibility I still retain a vivid memory of the faces of the individuals who were involved in my detention. I could easily identify them should the Sudanese Government wish to hold them responsible. As they are employees of the State Security Services, the Government of Sudan must assume responsibility for the actions of its Security Forces and for the compensation and redress to its victims. Current Situation I am still suffering severe psychological effects from my experiences in Sudan. I find it difficult to sleep and often wake shouting and in shock. I am quick to become angry and suffer nervous attacks. Bright lights, being driven in vehicles, unexpected visits to my door trigger panic attacks. I find it difficult to talk about my experience and still cannot use a normal computer with a monitor due to the ill effects of the screen light. I had already received an offer for a film to be made about my life in Sudan after my first kidnapping. I may now seriously consider this offer as I think it would serve to highlight many important things about Sudanese culture, mentality, contradictions between religious belief and practice, politics, the suffering of the honest people of Sudan and the tragic situation of thousands of prisoners, many of them innocent, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who upset some "wrong" person. Silence of Shame I have written to the Sudanese authorities on numerous occasions, including the President, Lt. General Bashir, requesting an explanation for these actions against me, since responsibility for the actions of security rests with them. (Please see copy of my latest letter to President Bashir). I have asked for redress for the injustices committed and the violations of my basic human rights and freedoms, as well as compensation for the torture, wrongful imprisonment, illegal deportation and loss of home, business, theft of belongings and assets. I have received no response whatsoever thus far, one year later. For this reason I have now decided to publicise my case and correspondence on the Internet and in the media. Suggestions Please Any support, in the form of advice, or sending faxes or e-mails, or passing this link on to others would be much appreciated. I think that my experience can be used to warn others and to help those without a voice who are still suffering and who I left behind. Any suggestions, comments and advice are more than welcome. With all best wishes, Louis I. Szondy Unitel, Monomark House 27, Old Gloucester Street London, WC1N 3XX tel: +44 (0)705 064 3021 fax: +44 (0)705 064 3022 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
May,2000. Little has changed since. Two years later I still live in fear for the life of our Secretary Ganet. The British FCO Consular Section has always been polite and civilised but the responsibility for her life rests with the British Embassy in Khartoum since she was refused her visa to join our head office on the basis that she 'does not own a bank account nor property in Sudan.' and hence the interviewing officer, civil servant David Ashford, felt that 'on the balance of probability she would not return to Sudan.'
Mr Ashford by virtue of his decision is accountable to God and Man for anything that happens to her.
I launched a website in January 2000 after 3 months learning HTML the hard way, to publicise my case. Since May 1, 2000 it is hosted on www.sudan.cx. I have had many E-mail letters of support, but what I would like to see are invitations to speak to businessmen and conferences, on the real human rights situation in Sudan, nay even in the center of the state capital Khartoum. This would warn anyone thinking of investing in Sudan of the dangers involved, not least the successful internet campaigns against companies which have gone in for a fast buck with the Khartoum regime against generous profit sharing terms over the dead bodies of the people.
I have an international human rights lawyer on my case and am even considering a return to Sudan to point out the criminals myself, since I have now been informed this is a possibility. Should anything happen to me if I do return, again, it will be the British government who should pay the price, not the Sudanese government. This is because if the British government had not connived with the Sudan regime to conceal my case from other businessmen and human rights organisations, instead of pressuring the regime to live up to its responsibilities for the safety and security of foreigners in Sudan, I would not be in this predicament and if my secretary had been allowed to assist in re-establishing the business here in the UK, I would not need to return to Sudan.
The Sudan government cannot be held responsible for security in practice, as it is clear to all and sundry that they are unable to control their numerous security forces and the notorious criminal gangs which inhabit them. However, since the Sudan government, the Chief Executive of which is General Omar Hassan Ahmed Al Bashir, can delegate AUTHORITY to the these gangs but cannot abrogate RESPONSIBILITY for their actions, when the day comes where they can face trial for the attrocities committed under their tenure of government, they will pay the ultimate price. If, as they boldly proclaim, they will be in government 'forever' then the Day of Judgment will be an awful one for them, when they will be sentenced by Supreme Justice and the penalty they will face without having paid in this life, nor repented, will be most severe no doubt.