On the afternoon of December 30, security forces knocked on the windows of Khartoum University Hospital, then fired tear gas into an emergency room filled with protesters injured during a nearby protest.
“We were around the corner trying to hide, it passed right in front of our heads,” said a nurse who asked not to disclose her name for fear of reprisal. “We couldn’t breathe and had to rush.”
Attacks on medical facilities seen during an uprising in Sudan three years ago reappeared during rallies against a coup in October, escalating anger among the protest movement and straining a healthcare system chronically underfunded.
The coup ended an agreement between the military and major political parties to share power following a 2019 uprising that toppled Omar Al-Bashir after three decades of autocratic rule.
Continued violence against protests could complicate efforts to resolve a standoff between military leaders and a large protest movement that wants civilian rule.
Hundreds of protesters have been injured since the coup, mostly from live ammunition and tear gas canisters, and at least 63 have died, according to the Sudanese Central Committee of Physicians (CCSD), a union of doctors aligned with the protesters.
The military leaders justify their coup by saving Sudan from chaos and have said they will protect the right to peaceful protest. In a statement released on Saturday, the Khartoum State Security Committee expressed regret at the “violations” of hospital grounds and pledged to provide high-ranking officers inside the facilities to monitor any violations.
Attacks on medical facilities have focused on hospitals that lie along major protest routes and regularly treat injured protesters.
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Near the Khartoum University Hospital, security forces made several attempts to disperse the protesters and chase them down the side streets as they marched towards the presidential palace, about 1.2 kilometers away.
Khartoum University Hospital has been attacked three times with tear gas, said its director, Dr Elfatih Abdallah.
“It is immoral, inhuman and not at all acceptable,” he said, pointing to a circular gash in the wall caused by a tear gas canister.
Patients, friends and relatives were also assaulted and arrested inside the hospital, and security forces chased protesters into the wards, hospital deputy director Emad Mamoun said.
Asked for comment, a police official who asked not to be named said: “We do not attack any doctor and doctors are highly respected by us because we see them as colleagues. We do not attack citizens. because our role is to protect them. “
Doctors say it’s not always clear which part of Sudan’s security apparatus is responsible. They say that even when security forces do not enter the hospital, tear gas is often fired nearby, making the job difficult.
The CCSD accused security forces of besieging hospitals and blocking the entry and exit of ambulances during protests.
Doctors marched in lab coats on Sunday to submit a report to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights documenting more than 20 suspected incidents by security forces impeding medical care across the country since the coup of state.
The attacks prompted the acting health minister to resign, although colleagues later persuaded him to stay.
While the presence of security forces during Sunday’s protests was lighter than usual, witnesses said they once again saw tear gas fired near Khartoum University Hospital.
During a visit to the hospital to show solidarity with the medical staff, Norwegian Ambassador Therese Loken Gheziel said the attacks would hamper the international community’s engagement with the authorities.
“Confidence must be restored, people need to see justice and the violence must stop. Then we can facilitate consultations,” she said.