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Public Order Police (POP)

In September 1992, President Omar Hassan al Bashir issued the Order Establishing the People's Police Force (1992), whose Article 3 states: "A semi-regular force is created and called the `People's Police Force.' It has a special emblem, and is formed from volunteer citizens who are eligible in accordance with the conditions stipulated in the regulations of the People's Police Force."

Article 4 specifies the goals of the force as being: to "assist the police in performing their duties and to mobilize popular energies towards maintaining security and public order, and to improve and rectify society in accordance with religious teachings and the precepts of superior morals." Article 12 of the order, entitled "Duties of People's Police Force volunteers," emphasizes, among other duties, the moral "mission" of a People's Police Force volunteer to "b) observe and uphold in his public conduct religious teachings and the precepts of superior morals" and "c) to behave according to righteous conduct which conforms with the sanctity of the tasks placed upon his shoulders."

Since the enactment of this order, tens of thousands of People's Police Force members, both men and women, have been inducted into the force all over Sudan. Although the 1992 order does not specify this, it is mainly the popular committees that are empowered to nominate the volunteers of the People's Police Force, while aspirants to join the regular force are still required to undergo a long process of application governed by strict requirements of eligibility, qualifications and fair representation of all major population groups.21 Second, the official discourse refers to the People's Police Force volunteer as al Shurti al Ressali "the policeman with a prophetic mission," while a member of the regular force remains what he has always been: a policeman.

The public order laws are state-level laws that regulate the social behaviors of all Sudanese and are based on the government’s interpretation of Shari’ah law. In practice, they disproportionately impact women and young girls, especially those from marginalized religious and ethnic communities. These laws are particularly infused with a conception of women as problematic actors whose movements and presence in public and private life must be subject to the highest scrutiny lest their inherent “dangerousness” infect those around them.

The most extensive is the Khartoum Public Order Act of 1998 (KPOA) which restricts the activities (in both public and private) of all of the over seven million people who live in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. The Act restricts behavior that authorities, based on their particular interpretation of Shari’ah, deem offenses of honor, reputation and public morality, including and expanding those crimes listed in Articles 151 to 153 of the 1991 Criminal Code. As defined in the Criminal Code, penalties for offenses include imprisonment, whipping and fines.

The KPOA includes enforcement mechanisms, including a special public order police, the Police of Society Security, and special public order courts. While the KPOA is a state law, the public order police are a special arm of the national Sudan Police Force. The public order police frequently employ “sweep and arrest” operations that usually target women from marginalized communities. The targets of the Public Order and Behavior Police were mainly displaced people from southern Sudan who took refuge in the capital area from the war. Ill-adapted to the life in the north, and coming from a different cultural and religious background, they found out the hard way that being themselves may be considered unlawful behavior.

It would appear that the resistance of the regular police force to enforcing these and other new standards led several lobbying groups within the NIF ruling elite to create the Public Order and Behavior Police and the People's Police Force with missions and priorities similar to enforcing the hejab. Indeed, the energies of the Public Order and Behavior Police were largely used during its early existence to enforce the hejab. The regular police force apparently managed over time to assimilate the Public Order Police and Behavior in part, assigning to it some aspects of routine police duties such as criminal investigation and drug enforcement. The "moral cleansing" of streets, markets and neighborhood remains, however, high on the agenda of the Public Order and Behavior Police.

The public order police (POP) — renamed the Police of Society Security in 2009 — are an essential component of the POR [public order regime] and operate as its feared enforcement arm. While officially the POP was given a new name “Police of Society Security” they continue to be known by the public as the POP. Though they form part of the Sudan Police Force (SPF) they are a special unit attached to the public order courts and appear to have developed their own culture (although they do often conduct joint operations). While coming under the general authority of the Director General of Police, the POP do take some directions from the local "safety committees" and local and state authorities. The fact that at state level the POP are involved also in enforcing governor decrees — such as, for example, the famous, but now suspended, Khartoum governor‘s decree which restricted women‘s access to employment in certain fields eg., hotels, garages etc., — serves only to emphasise this connection with sites of local power.

The law, including many traditional legal practices and certain provisions of Islamic jurisprudence as interpreted and applied by the government, discriminates against women. In accordance with Islamic judicial interpretation, a Muslim widow inherits one-eighth of her husband’s estate; of the remaining seven-eighths, two-thirds goes to the sons and one-third to the daughters. In certain probate trials, a woman’s testimony is not considered equal to a man’s; the testimony of two women is required. In other civil trials, the testimony of a woman equals that of a man.

By law a Muslim man may marry a Jewish or Christian woman. A Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man and may be charged with adultery if she does so.

Various government institutions required women to dress according to Islamic or cultural standards, including wearing a head covering. In Khartoum Public Order Police occasionally brought women before judges for allegedly violating Islamic standards. One women’s advocacy group estimated in 2018 that in Khartoum, Public Order Police arrested an average of 40 women per day. Islamic standards for dress generally were not legally enforced for non-Muslims, but were culturally enforced.

In practice the POP carved out a huge ambit of action with respect to interpreting and acting pursuant to the POR. When asked about the establishment and management of the POP, most people are not aware of the formal source of their authority but claimed that members of the POP were recruited from the ranks of "former criminals" and "the homeless". The perception at a minimum was that the POP had special training or encouragement to be "tough" and ruthless in their approach to enforcement and were rarely called to account.

The POP have a reputation for physical brutality. They are perceived as being deployed in situations where the ordinary police is expected to be too “soft” or unable to elicit the compliance response required from the public in a particular situation. One of the defining features of the operation and reputation of the POP is the phenomenon of khasa or “sweep and arrest”. These are operations targeted at particular groups—women tea sellers on the street for example — which are triggered without warning and result in mass arrests, frequent physical assault, and the imposition of POR penalties (fines and lashings). The kasha generally does not take place in response to reports about a specific public order disturbance: it is a spontaneous activity, often politically motivated, and usually directed against marginalised groups of persons – refugees, women, particular ethnic groups. The khasa, in this understanding, is the epitome of the “kasha mentality,” an inherent characteristic of the POP which is grounded in expanding the circle of criminalisation of civilians.

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