CAIRO — A court in Sudan convicted the country’s former authoritarian ruler Omar Hassan al-Bashir of money laundering and corruption Saturday, delivering a verdict that few Sudanese expected a year ago when a massive populist revolt erupted.
“The trial for these charges of financial crimes does not address the human rights violations that so many Sudanese have experienced,” said Jehanne Henry, a Human Rights Watch associate director who focuses on Sudan. “So the sentence will not likely satisfy the many thousands of victims of abuses under al-Bashir’s 30 year rule.”
Bashir’s prosecution — as well as other judicial cases against him — is seen as a test of whether Sudan can bring closure for the abuses endured by many citizens under his rule. It is also a test of whether the nation’s political transition can move forward, despite the presence of Bashir’s loyalists in the government bureaucracy and society.
On Saturday, hundreds of his supporters gathered in the streets near the presidential palace in the capital, Khartoum, ahead of the verdict. Troops and armored vehicles blocked roads and a heavy security presence was visible at the courthouse.
Bashir sat inside a metal cage for defendants, dressed in a traditional white turban and robe, as the judge read out the verdict.
“The convict, Omar al-Bashir, is consigned to a social reform facility for a period of two years,” the judge, Al-Sadiq Abdelrahman, said.
The 75-year-old former dictator is also wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide linked to government-backed attacks in Sudan’s western Darfur region in the 2000s. But Bashir remained untouched despite the ICC arrest warrant, often taunting the international community by traveling in African and Middle Eastern nations without being detained.
During his rule, Bashir was also accused of sponsoring terrorism. That included harboring Osama bin Laden and playing a role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, that killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured 40 others.
Sudan was slapped with U.S. sanctions and remains on the State Department’s list of state-sponsoring terrorism.
Saturday’s verdict arrives a year after Sudanese protesters took the streets, staging massive demonstrations and sit-ins against rising prices, food shortages and, by the end, Bashir’s iron-fisted rule. In April, Sudan’s military buckled to the pressure and ousted him. The uprising eventually led to the creation of a power-sharing agreement between the military and civilians.
Sudanese law mandates that Bashir will spend his two-year sentence in a government correctional facility for elderly people convicted of non-death penalty crimes.
But the ex-president, who rose to power in a military coup in 1989, is set to remain in jail because he faces a separate trial on charges of incitement and playing a role in the killing of protesters before he was toppled. This week, Bashir was also questioned over his role in the 1989 coup.
On Saturday, some Sudanese took to social media to ridicule the verdict.
“Given his age, he will be placed in a rehabilitation center. This is a joke,” tweeted Mutasim Ali, a Sudanese law student at George Washington University. “The deep state is still exist particularly in our judiciary and to make reforms will take us decades. That’s why cooperation with the ICC to handover Bashir and others is due.”
Sudan’s transitional government has yet to publicly say whether it will hand Bashir over to the ICC at The Hague. But Sudan’s military, a partner in the government, has said it would not extradite Bashir.
Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted: “Justice has been an important demand of Sudanese citizens who ousted Bashir from power. However, he and many others still need to be held accountable for the three decades of atrocities perpetrated against the people of Sudan.”
Bashir’s testimony during his corruption and money laundering trial offered some clues on the reluctance to hand him over to the ICC: He can potentially implicate other powerful Sudanese military commanders and politicians in war crimes and genocide charges. They have also depended on Bashir’s largesse over the years.
When he was arrested in April, millions of dollars, euros and other currencies were seized from his home. In August, Bashir told the court that the cash was mainly from $25 million given to him by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Some of the cash was distributed to a military hospital and a university.
But $5 million, Bashir said, was given to the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary unit made up of former members of the Janjaweed, the militia that Bashir deployed and is accused of seeking to ethnically cleanse Darfur through the burning of villages and killings.
The head of the Rapid Support Forces, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, is on the transitional government’s ruling council. Hemedti’s unit is widely accused by pro-democracy protesters of leading the crackdown against them, killing dozens.
On Saturday, the judge also ordered the confiscation of the millions found in Bashir’s home. But Bashir’s lawyer, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, said that the ex-president plans to appeal the verdict.
“The judge made the ruling based on political motives, but despite that we still have confidence in the Sudanese judiciary,” Tahir told reporters, according to the Reuters news agency.