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Communist Leader Sentenced By Military Court

By Jesse W. Lewis Jr.
Washington Post Foreign Service
July 28, 1971

Khartoum, the Sudan, July 28 -- Sudan's Communist Party leader, Abdel Khalek Mahjoub, was hanged today for allegedly masterminding the short-lived coup that toppled the regime of Sudanese President Gen. Jaafar Nimeri, the official Radio Omdurman announced.

A military tribunal yesterday sentenced the 45-year-old top communist to death by hanging.

[UPI quoted the broadcast as saying that President Nimeri "approved the sentence."]

The opening session of Mahjoub's public trial was brief. It was abruptly adjourned -- and later went into secret session -- when the government's key witness refused to testify against the Sudanese Communist boss.

Mahjoub's trial began in the dusty, heavily guarded Sudanese army headquarters in front of about 50 foreign journalists as Omdurman Radio announced that a 13th person had been executed for his part in the short-lived coup.

There appears to be a widespread crackdown here on leftists and Communists after Nimeri blamed them for the coup and vowed to crush the Communist Party.

Sudan is Africa's largest country and until last Thursday's countercoup that restored Nimeri to power the Communist Party here was considered the largest and most powerful in Africa and the Arab world.

Mahjoub, who is secretary general of Sudan's Communists Party, is we known in international Communist circles as a spokesman for African and Arab Communists.

Omdurman Radio, Sudan's main broadcasting station, announced that Joseph Garang, a black African who was former minister of southern affairs, was hanged at Kubar prison today. All told 11 officers have been shot by firing squad and two civilians hanged after being convicted as conspirators in the July 19th pro-Communist coup.

A well-known leftist intellectual, Dr. Mustafa Khojalli, a member of Khartoum University Medical Faculty, was sentenced today to a 20-year prison term.

An army spokesman announced today that about 30 more officers and several civilians are to stand trial.

The trial was originally scheduled to be held in a building that appears not to have been used for several weeks.

A table was hurriedly brought in and chairs arranged in audience fashion. Then correspondents were invited to have cold drinks in another building about 300 yards away. Journalists were then led to another building about 35 feet wide and 100 feet long. A long, polished walnut table with three chairs was set up at the head of the room, with two smaller tables, each with two chairs were placed on either side and at right angles to the long table. The first 10 minutes of Mahjoub's trial -- the first to have been made public in the current crackdown -- caught the three-judge court off balance and set the tone for the rest of the open proceedings.

When the president of the court, Col. Mohammed Ahmed Hassan, asked Mahjoub whether he has "any objection to this court trying you," Mahjoub replied.

"Yes this court is not fit to try me. My objection is not personal but political. I know you as an Arab nationalist and as an opponent to progressive forces in the Sudan. I do know the other two men, but you can influence."

The other two officers on the tribunal, both lieutenant colonels, shifted in their seats.

Col. Hassan then adjourned the court to consider Mahjoub's objections.

The three officers returned after 15 minutes and announced that the proceedings would continue.

Hassan read the charges which accused Mahjoub of "waging war against the state" and violating orders of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council which deals with "subversion and counter-revolutionary" activity. The charges carry a death sentence.

The charges we're repeated by the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Hussein Taher, who also told the court, "We have documents and witnesses to prove it."

Taher then called witness Mohammed Ansari into the room.

Maj. Moheddine Ibrahim, of the army legal office said the trial was delayed because "Mahjoub himself wanted some time to prepare his case so we gave him one hour."

Maj. Ibrahim said that Mahjoub met his defense counsel, Brig. Mohammed Abdel Rahman Faki, today.

When the witness, Ansari came in, photographers moved closer to snap pictures. The court proceedings stopped until the photographers finished.

The prosecutor tried to make a case connecting Mahjoub with the short-lived coup that started July 19.

Taher asked the witness if he knew that Mahjoub was involved in the coup attempt. The witness said he did not.

In the exchange that followed it was revealed that the witness's wife is a member of the Communist Party and Mahjoub.

The prosecutor then produced a letter he said was found in the witness's house. When the letter was showed to the witness, he said: "I do not know if that letter was in my house or not. You searched my house when I was not there so you could have placed it there yourself."

The prosecutor appeared surprised by the witness's answer.

"Do you know that your wife is a member of the Communist Party central committee," the prosecutor asked.

"People say she is" the witness replied.

"How in an Islamic society could a husband not know what his wife is doing," said the prosecutor who then suggested that the relationship between Mahjoub and the witness's wife was more than political.

The president of the court then interrupted and told the prosecutor to stop that line of questioning.

The letter contained a list of people the Communists intended to put into the cabinet after the takeover from Nimeri.

Mahjoub admitted that the letter was written by him.

"It is normal for a political party to discuss who they would like to have in cabinet posts," Mahjoub told the court. "We did the same thing after the coup on May 25, 1969, that brought you to power but we were not accused of being involved then, he said.

"I knew a lot of discontent in the country and in the army but I knew nothing about the coup," he added. Apparently the letter was written after July 19 but this was not brought out specifically in testimony.

The prosecutor then said that the witness should be considered an "enemy of the court."The court adjourned again.

After the presiding of officers left the building, Mahjoub asked to speak with Eric Rouleau, a Middle East specialist for the French newspaper Le Monde. Rouleau shook hands with Mahjoub, who turned to face the cameras that were clicking and grinding away.

Other reporters rushed to Mahjoub to ask him questions. "How are you being treated," one journalist asked. "I am being treated..."but Mahjoub was unable to finish the answer because several others broke in with their own questions.

"I heard about this trial at noon today," Mahjoub added.

At this point the first lieutenant who was guarding Mahjoub banged on the table and said, "You can not ask questions." Several journalists persisted, and the officer said, "Did you hear me. No questions or I will send everybody out. Do you mind?" The officer then led Mahjoub away by the hand and five other paratroopers followed with their automatic rifles pointed at Mahjoub's back.

Several minutes later, correspondents were told the rest of the trial would be held in secret. A legal officer said "but the proceedings will be published later."

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