A Sudanese court on Wednesday sentenced 11 members of the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) to death and acquitted five others for an unprecedented 2008 attack on Khartoum.
“The court has found the accused guilty... and has decided to impose the harshest punishment,” judge Samid Din Ismail told the defendants.
Five defendants were found not guilty of the charges, which included trying to overthrow the government. The court referred one defendant to a juvenile court and another to mental hospital.
At least 60 JEM rebels have now been sentenced to death for the unprecedented attack on the capital’s twin city of Omdurman in May 2008, including 10 who were ordered hanged on April 15.
More than 222 people were killed when rebels thrust more than 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) across the sandy expanse from conflict-torn Darfur in western Sudan to Omdurman, just across the Nile from the presidential palace.
The defendants yelled slogans after the judge read out the sentence, decrying what they said was an absence of justice and expressing support for JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim.
The court gave the defence a week to appeal the ruling.
Defence lawyer Adam Bakr said he would appeal, but said the week-long appeal deadline “violates rules of justice.”
JEM on Tuesday rebuffed Qatari efforts to broker new peace talks, saying Khartoum had failed to honour a confidence-building deal brokered by Qatar in February aimed at paving the way for peace negotiations.
“We maintain our position to not sit down with the government unless real and clear progress is achieved on the ground, in terms of prisoners, displaced people, and especially after the ouster of humanitarian organisations,” JEM official Jibril Khalil told AFP.
Last year, the United Nations expressed concern over the trials in the Sudanese courts especially created for the case and urged Khartoum to abolish capital punishment.
Defence lawyers have argued that the special courts are unconstitutional and have not guaranteed their clients’ legal rights.
Under Sudanese law, any death sentence must be ratified by an appeal court and the high court. All death warrants must then be signed and approved by President Omar al-Beshir.
The JEM last month said it would no longer hold peace talks with the Sudanese government after Khartoum’s expulsion of foreign aid agencies from the war-ravaged region.
It had signed an accord in the Qatari capital of Doha in February with Khartoum on a package of confidence-building measures, paving the way for substantive peace negotiations.
But it said peace talks were no longer possible after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Beshir on March 4 for war crimes in Darfur.
The world court has accused Beshir of criminal responsibility for “exterminating, raping and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians” from Darfur.
The United Nations says that up to 300,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels in Darfur rose up against the regime in February 2003. Sudan says 10,000 have been killed.