Interview by Tim King Salem-News.com
Young man from Oregon survived Horrors of Sudan, only to be arrested in protest & charged with ‘Terrorism’ during a recent visit to Khartoum.
(SALEM / SPRINGFIELD) – As we reported yesterday, the defense in Khartoum has rested in the trial for Rudwan Dawod, an American resident, NGO aid worker, humanitarian and pro-democracy activist, who worked closely with former NBA Legend Manute Bol. If convicted, Dawod, an Oregon resident and expecting father, could be sentenced to death.
I interviewed two people in regard to this story. One is Tom Prichard who works with Sunrise Sudan, the group both he and Dawod work with in their humanitarian relief efforts. He is a close friend and associate of Rudwan; Prochard is rallying for his release and return to the United States by clarifying that this young man was simply taking part in a protest, and for this he is charged with terrorism.
The other person I asked questions of is Rudwan’s wife, Nancy Dawod, who is carrying his child. She met her husband while conducting humanitarian relief work and she is also working to see his release; injecting truth into what many see as a concocted story designed to dissuade political protest in Sudan that draws attention to the government’s years of unjust, totalitarian treatment.
Tim King: Tom, according to the latest news, the defense in Khartoum has rested, and the judge said he would take until 8/13 to review the case. Who has provided the defense and what is your assessment of the system of justice in today’s Sudan?
Tom Prichard: At one point I heard that there were as many as 20 lawyers working on the defense. One comment that I heard was that a courtroom guard said, “I have been working here 7 years, and I have never seen anything like this.” That was referring to the crowding of the courtroom, the lawyers, spectators, demonstrators, and the police. For one of the sessions I heard that they had 25 police to bring Rudwan in, and some with helmets and riot shields. Another report of the same day said that there were 10.
One of the lawyers, who I know and who is a member of Girifna, told me the day before the court session this Tuesday that the verdict and sentencing could come the same day the defense rested. He also said it could come one or two days later. It’s interesting that the judge said two weeks so he could review the case. Some folks very involved with Sudan speculate that the it is good that the sentencing is drawn out, but that the regime is doing this so that they can make a trade. They will want something in exchange for letting him go.
The sense I get is that the justice system does work, but that the regime can intervene and pressure the court to get what they want at any time. Nancy can affirm this or not, but I understand that this judge is the third judge on the case since the first hearing. That usually is a sign that pressure is put on the judges until they find someone who is going to do what they want. An interesting footnote is that there recently was a lawyers protest, not specifically about Rudwan, but simply against this regime. Something like 200-300 lawyers took to the streets to express their opposition to the regime.
Tim King: The role Rudwan Dawod has taken on is unique to say the very least. For the benefit of our readers, can you explain the layout in Sudan and South Sudan with regard to religion and western colonialism?
Tom Prichard: Since Sudan’s independence from Britain in 1956, it is was one country, controlled from Khartoum by the Muslim majority. There have been two long wars, largely between the Muslim controlled government in the North, and the non-Muslims (Christians and traditional tribal religions) in the South. The second war, which lasted 22 years, ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, which was largely brokered by the US. In the second war it is estimated that 2.2-2.4 million Southern Sudanese died, and 4 million were displaced. One of the provisions of the CPA was the right of the Southern Sudanese to have a referendum in January 2011 to decide if they would like to secede from the North. Southerners voted overwhelmingly to secede, and the South became the Republic of South Sudan on July 9 2011, and the world’s 193rd nation, and not long thereafter had it’s delegation seated by the UN. In essence, the country divided in two, along the religious fault line.
Tim King: Can you describe the initial reaction to the news of Rudwan’s arrest earlier this month?
Tom Prichard: People were immediately very worried for Rudwan, his father and brother, and those taken with him. As the details surrounding Rudwan’s abducting came out there was real surprise that what was going on was not the typical abduction of a demonstrator (e.g. they raided his family’s house, abducted his father and brother). When a media campaign began saying Rudwan was working for the CIA and was organizing a campaign to bomb markets in Khartoum, etc., it became evident that he was the fall guy for the Government of Sudan’s attempt to discredit the growing movement of anti-government, non-violent protestors.
Tim King: The term ‘terrorism’ was used in this case and we at Salem-News have long detected a pattern of governments using this as an excuse to transform citizens into political prisoners and worse. From what I am seeing, this is nothing less than another absurd misuse of that charge and word ‘terrorist’ against another human rights activist and in my view, this could be simply a baseless claim of convenience. What is your comment?
Tom Prichard: The irony of the charge is that the Government of Sudan is headed by the only world leader, Omar al Bashir, who is indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur and elsewhere. Rudwan Dawod is committed to non-violence, and has done amazing humanitarian work. Last year I was with him and the team delivering relief food to refugees in South Sudan from a Northern-sponsored attack that had killed many of their family members, taken their land and burned their homes. When there was an attack in Turalei, the town where we were taking the food just four days before we got there, I tried to convince Rudwan to turn back because of the danger. He refused, as did the other team members, including Widad, a female member of Girifna. Not only has he put himself at risk to take relief food to conflict areas, he has been a leader in Manute Bol’s school effort, and also in the initiative of young Muslims who are organizing to help rebuild a Catholic Cathedral as a way of expressing their refusal to go along with the recent church-burnings that the government has been fomenting. He’s no terrorist, but the government of Omar al Bashir is a terrorist regime.
The government is calling the demonstrators terrorists, because they don’t want the populace of Khartoum to join them. They want the population to fear what will happen if the demonstrations increase. The government in Sudan is effective at propaganda. I was at a conference in Nairobi almost two years ago, where Southern Sudanese Lost Boys were telling their stories. One of the early members of Girifna was there, and he told me, “I have never heard these stories before. In Khartoum, we don’t know these things they talk about ever happened.” If you can’t deny the existence of a protest movement, because you can see it out your window. But they made a huge mistake when they chose Rudwan as their target. First because of his connections, who have raised a the awareness of his case so quickly (when Rudwan was in a ghost house in the first week of his abduction, and was being tortured, one of the government agents said, “we didn’t know you were so important”. And they immediately started to go easier on him.) Second, Rudwan’s humanitarian work and commitment to reconciliation, will come out the more they try to paint him a terrorist. This all puts the youth non-violent protest movement in the best light.
Tim King: The lawyers believed there would be an immediate verdict. But it will be two weeks as you pointed out. What is the game plan from this point forward in a general sense?
Tom Prichard: We want to use this interval to continue to raise awareness of Rudwan’s plight and all those who are being held. The more awareness there is around the world of Rudwan’s situation, the more likely he ail be released.
Tim King: Tom, is your team encouraging public outreach and participation in aiding Mr. Dawod and if so, what should people do?
Tom Prichard: Anything people can do to make others aware of Rudwan’s situation, the better. It helps our State Dept if they are being pressured by the public, through our elected officials. So anything that raises the visibility of Rudwan’s case is a big help. People can make a donation to help Rudwan and his family on sudansunrise.org. Also we will be updating FreeRudwan.org with action steps of how to help.
Tim King: There are an assortment of articles about Rudwan in circulation at this point, and the story seems to be on the radar, but is media doing enough?
Tom Prichard: The media is definitely getting the story out. But it is my hope that what has happened is only the beginning. Although the date is not set, Nancy will be interviewed live in prime time on Fox TV. I wish everyone in the US would know of the example of young Muslim activists doing such bold projects as planning to help rebuild a church as a way of standing for peace, and also speaking out at their peril for an end of government oppression in Darfur, Nuba Mountains and elsewhere.
Tim King: Can you talk about the successful and challenging aspects of Rudwan’s work over the past three years?
Tom Prichard: Rudwan has been instrumental both it exemplifying how reconciliation is built through words and actions, but also of recruiting so many young Muslims to the idea of crossing boundaries of faith and geography to build a better future. The challenging aspects have been opposition, from the Government of Sudan and lack of funding. Rudwan has consistently continued to press ahead with determination, and a positive attitude, even though he has had to make real sacrifices because of a shortage of funding.
Tim King: What is the U.S. government agencies like State Department doing to aid Rudwan?
Tom Prichard: The US Government is following Rudwan’s case closely, and our Embassy in Khartoum has send personnel to sit in the court room for Rudwan’s trial. Our State Dept is doing a great job, but one of the challenges is that the Government of Sudan typically looks at a situation such as this one as a way to demand something in return for Rudwan’s release. That’s one reason why media attention is so helpful. The Government of Sudan does care about how they are perceived, so they more people who are aware of this, the more likely they are to release him.
Tim King: Are there any efforts underway in Salem from politicians such as the Springfield legislators?
Tom Prichard: I am not aware of any. It would help if the State government would call for his release, and commend his good work.
Tim King: Manute Bol is a legend in both college and NBA basketball history, and it is fascinating that he worked with Rudwan in the group Sudan Sunrise. Has Bol’s passing in 2010 been an impact and do you think this would have happened if he were still alive?
Tom Prichard: Last year Rudwan, and other Girfna members, had a press conference in Khartoum with a banner behind the with the iconic picture of Manute and Mugsy Bogues. Rudwan was holding up Manute’s dream of building schools for Muslims and Christians and children of whatever faith and tribal background. Rudwan would say, “Manute is not just a hero for the Southerners. He’s our hero too.” Manute lost some 240 family members in the war with the North, yet he would say, “Muslims are not my enemies. They are my brothers. The problem is the government.”
Manute really liked Rudwan, and he respected him. If Manute were alive, he would be doing everything he could to get Rudwan released.
Tim King: Nancy, I can only imagine the fascinating stories and adventures that represent your life, and there is no question that Oregon has produced its share of incredible human rights activists. Can you explain how you came to know Rudwan?
I reached out to Sudan Sunrise back in 2007, as an NGO that I wanted to be involved with based on their focus for peace and reconciliation rather than humanitarian aid or proselytization. I traveled to Sudan twice in 2009, to Manute Bol’s village of Turalei, for school building and teacher training projects with Sudan Sunrise. Rudwan joined us on both trips and we fell in love. We had a Sudanese proxy Valentine wedding early 2010, in which a dear friend attended as my guardian or wali while I was here in the states. Rudwan and I had an official US wedding in September 2010 shortly after he joined me here in Oregon.
Tim King: I know many people understand in America, but still the vast majority possibly fails to grasp what it takes to survive peacefully in a place like Sudan and how a person born into that type of environment lives with a strong desire to aid and assist their native countrymen for the sake of general humanity. Does that description match Rudwan in character?
Nancy Dawod: Rudwan had an unparalleled compassion for his people long before I met him. His heart broke over their suffering, especially the women and children. That’s why it’s so easy to love him. He lives for something so much larger than himself. He’s never been a fighter but he uses his voice to speak for change in Sudan; for justice, equality and democracy no matter what the risks or consequences are. He’s an amazing speaker and civil rights leader that inspires and motivates people.
Tim King: I understand that you are pregnant and this has to be particularly stressful, I know people are also wondering, so I will just ask, how are you doing as you manage all of this?
Nancy Dawod: I’ve been really blessed during this pregnancy with great health and tremendous support from friends, family and work. Rudwan is 30 and I’m 44. We weren’t sure I’d be able to get pregnant so this little girl is a miracle and we love her so much. Rudwan wanted a girl that could realize the freedoms and equalities of any man. Her name is Sudan Nyala (nickname, Nylie); Sudan because of his love for his country, Nyala for our family and loved ones in Darfur, and Nylie because it reminds me of the River Nile that joins north and south even thought they’re now two countries. I can’t imagine raising her without her daddy. We both need him home! I’m due on September 18th and I promised Rudwan that the doctor could place her in his arms first, to hold her even before me.
Tim King: I see Rudwan in such a bright light for trying to aid Catholics in Muslim territory because religious freedom is absolutely mandatory in this world. Can you talk about the religious and military politics of Sudan as they relate to this case?
Nancy Dawod: Rudwan is a Muslim who believes strongly in tolerance and religious freedoms. Sudan’s laws are based on Islamic law and calls for crucifixion of Muslims who convert to Christianity and other religions. While they were torturing Rudwan, they were insulting him for his participation in the church building project in South Sudan.
Tim King: everything taking place with regard to the prosecution and persecution of Rudwan strikes me as highly unusual and unjust. I think I could come up with quite a number of violations of international law that are potentially occurring as a result of this. Are you getting any assistance from powers inside of the United Nations?
Nancy Dawod: I think Tom or Kody could speak better to this question. I’m truly amazed and overwhelmed by the support we have received from government, media and NGOs. I really feel like my husband’s life is in the best possible hands and we’ll continue to fight for his freedom until he’s released.
Tim King: Perhaps the most important question at this point, centers around the question of whether Sudan be persuaded to just do the right thing. Can you explain how the Sudanese government would benefit by committing Rudwan to the death penalty?
Nancy Dawod: I can’t see any benefit to them at all. It would be wrong on so many levels and there would be a tremendous outcry from supporters all over the world. Of all the civil and political prisoners being held in Sudan, I don’t know of any others being charged with criminal organization or terrorism. There is absolutely no grounds or evidence for such ludicrous accusations and has completely backfired on them because they’ve most definitely picked the wrong man to attempt to discredit. My husband is a peacemaker and follows the teachings of men like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. He would no more “terrorize” or harm his own people than he would his own daughter.
The story of Rudwan Dawod is a tragedy in the making, but if enough people react and reach out; if the flag is raised high enough for all to see; then hope is on the horizon.
Why is this possible?
Because Sudan will be so politically damaged if they choose to put this good man to death, that the government will never recover. The nation’s leader is a wanted war criminal and has to maintain a perpetual balancing act to stay in power. Please follow the Sudan tag on Salem-News.com for the latest developments in this case.
To Help Please visit this website: http://www.jewishworldwatch.org/takeaction/sudan/release-ngo-staffer