The youth volunteers unrolled long green carpets on Monday before distributing loaves of bread and bowls of stew to the seated faithful. Nearby, dozens of others cheered and waved Sudanese flags.
It is Ramadan in Sudan, and at a sit-in in Khartoum, where thousands of people have camped out since April demanding an end to military rule, no one seems ready to go home — and few seem to have lost their energy for protest.
Instead, the protesters have organized an iftar to break their fast, with food for more than 2,000 people, according to volunteers.
Despite the heat during the day, student protester Khalid Sharif Ibrahim Abdallah says they will keep demonstrating until they see real change in government. Muslim faithful do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.
“There’s thirst. There’s hunger. There’s tiredness,” he told VOA. “But you are aiming for a goal, and you must get to it. All these things, if they don’t make you weaker, they will only make you stronger.”
He said rather than slowing them down, Ramadan will give them motivation to keep going to reach their goals, which he described as “a civilian government, a democratic government, and a country for citizens with equal rights.”
The previous government, led by former President Omar al-Bashir and dominated by the military, ruled for 30 years and is accused of corruption, atrocities and curbing basic freedoms.
While youth have led the revolution, people of all ages joined the Ramadan celebration in a show of solidarity. Abdalshafer Ahmed Ibrahim, in his 70s, holding a Quran and wearing a white jalibiya, sat on a carpet waiting for sundown.
“We want the freedom to change the situation,” he told VOA. “The pressure has become too much. We want freedom. That’s all.” When at last the call to prayer echoed across the sit-in at dusk, the protesters quietly took their first sips of water and bites of food since dawn.
Volunteers also brought food and drink to share with the protesters. They welcomed anyone to eat from their plastic tubs of rice, and poured cold hibiscus juice into waiting cups. One volunteer, named Khalda Kamil Abuker, and her friends are part of a group that works to support cancer patients.
“Every Ramadan, we feed the cancer patients in the hospital,” she said. “This year we thought we would start here as we wanted to share with our brothers and sisters in the sit-in.” With darkness enveloping the sit-in site, Abuker explained that cancer treatment in Sudan is subpar, and said the previous government didn’t do enough to support health care.
“Cancer patients in Sudan suffer quite a lot, especially if they need surgery,” she said.She said she hopes the new government will be more responsive. “We hope the military council will fulfill the demands of the people and of the nation for the sake of stability and peace of mind,” she said. “The civilian government must be put together as soon as possible.”
She added: “We hope this sit-in can bring an honorable result, not just for Sudan but for the whole world. If the demands of the youth are met, Sudan is going to have civility, safety, and the country will be moving forward.”
When the last bits of food were eaten, the youth rolled up the green carpets. Then, the music started again, and the youth began waving their flags once more. The Sudanese at the sit-in continued celebrating Ramadan, and the revolution. (VOA)
A Chinese official denies allegations by activists that China’s government is blocking Muslim religious practices in the restive Xinjiang region during the holy month of Ramadan.
A Chinese diplomat in neighboring Pakistan said Beijing has put only partial restrictions on Ramadan activities, not a total ban on fasting by the Uighur minority in Xinjiang.
“There’s no blanket ban. That’s Western propaganda,” Lijian Zhao, the deputy chief of mission at China’s embassy in Islamabad, told VOA.
Zhao said that Xinjiang residents were free to fast during Ramadan and that restrictions were limited to those with official responsibilities to ensure their religious practices did not interfere with their public duties.
“Restrictions are with the Communist Party members, who are atheists; government officials, who shall discharge their duties; and students who are with compulsory education and hard learning tasks,” he said.
The official’s comments come as human rights activists and Uighur advocacy groups have expressed concern about the Chinese government’s widening its repression of thousands of Uighurs as they joined millions of Muslims from around the world to fast during Ramadan, which began May 5 and continues for a month.
Dolkun Isa, the head of the Germany-based World Uighur Congress, told VOA that Uighurs who are working in the public sector and students are asked to appear daily at canteens during lunch or they will be accused of secretly fasting and hiding “extremist” tendencies.
Disputing Zhao’s assertion that the restrictions were limited, the exiled Uighur leader Isa said government workers were also forced to take home food and share with their family members. Other common Muslim practices, such as attending prayer and wearing a headscarf, are also banned for local residents.
“In some cases, Uighur employees are forced to take home pork and ordered to share with their families,” said Isa. “The restrictions on Ramadan have been in place every year since 2016, but they are especially hard this year.”
The vast region of deserts and mountains in the northwest is home to nearly 22 million people and has the greatest concentration of Muslims in China, estimated to be about 11 million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities.
Conflict in the region is not new. The Chinese government has for decades suppressed a separatist movement by Uighurs to establish an independent state called East Turkestan. Uighurs accuse the government of forcing demographic changes by settling millions of Han Chinese in the region.
The government in Beijing has in recent years faced growing international condemnation over the detention of more than a million minority Uighurs and other Muslims in so-called re-education camps.
Earlier this month, Randall Schriver, who leads Asia policy at the U.S. Department of Defense, said that the estimated number of detainees could be “closer to 3 million citizens.”
“The Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps,” Schriver said at a Pentagon briefing.
The term “concentration camps” is generally associated with the death camps operated by Nazi Germany in 1940s.
Chinese officials, however, say that their measures in Xinjiang are needed to combat the threat of terrorism and that the camps are nothing but vocational training centers. They are asking the U.S. to “stop interfering” in their domestic affairs.
“We urge the relevant U.S. individual to respect the fact, abandon bias, exercise prudence in words and deeds, stop interfering in China’s domestic affairs, and earnestly contribute to mutual trust and cooperation between us,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang at a press briefing last week.
Shuang said their measures at “vocational and educational training institutions” operate according to law and they endorse all ethnic group members with “positive social effects.”
In December 2015, China passed its controversial anti-terror law, which according to Human Rights Watch gave government agencies “enormous discretionary powers.”
The government’s April 2017 regulations to “prevent extremism” drew international outcry, with critics saying they violated basic human rights and religious freedom.
According to the state-run newspaper China Daily, the regulations forbid people in the region from wearing full-face coverings and long beards. They also prohibit them from “choosing names in an abnormal way” or “rejecting or refusing state products and services that include radio and television programming.” (VOA)