KHARTOUM: Sudan’s deposed longtime president Omar Al-Bashir appeared in court yesterday for the second hearing of his corruption trial, during which his defense asked for his release on bail. Bashir, wearing a traditional white gown, sat in the same metal cage he appeared in Monday when his trial on graft charges opened. In the first hearing, an investigator said Bashir had admitted to receiving at least $90 million in cash in recent years.
The judge in Khartoum yesterday heard three witnesses, two of them investigators who searched Bashir’s residence after his ouster and the other a banker. “We ask the court to release the accused on bail,” Bashir’s lawyer Hashem Abu Bakr said, to which the judge answered he would examine a written request. After the hearing, as a massive security convoy escorted the 75-year-old Bashir back to prison, two opposing groups of demonstrators staged protests.
One group of a few dozen protesters chanted slogans for Bashir to face justice not just over corruption but for his role in the country’s deadly conflicts. “Bashir is a killer” and “He has to face justice”, they chanted. “Bashir has committed a number of crimes that he should be prosecuted for as a priority, not for these sums of money,” said one demonstrator who gave his name as Yasser Mohamed. Another smaller group turned out in support of the deposed Islamist leader, who was forced from power by relentless protests in April after 30 years in power. “We came here to support the legitimate president of the country,” said Abdel Rahman Omar, one of the pro-Bashir demonstrators.
While the sight of Bashir sitting inside a cage in a courtroom was unthinkable only months ago, many in Sudan and abroad have warned that the graft trial should not distract from the more serious indictments he faces. The former Sudanese leader is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague over his role in mass killings in the western region of Darfur. A landmark deal was signed on Aug 17, setting a roadmap for Sudan’s transition to civilian rule and democratic elections in 2022.
In the interim, the country will be led by a Sovereign Council that includes six civilians and five members of the military. While the generals in the transitional bodies eventually sided with the protests that brought down Bashir, they rose up the ranks in Bashir’s regime and many Sudanese are wary of their commitment to the transition. The next hearing in Bashir’s corruption trial was set for Aug 31. – AFP