American Nancy Williams and Sudanese Rudwan Dawod met in South Sudan, where they were both working. The two fell in love and married, and they're expecting their first child in September. But while Nancy Williams Dawod is home in Oregon, her husband, who has U.S. residency, is in detention in Sudan, facing terrorism charges and possibly a death sentence.
He is due to appear in court next week.
Dawod is a Muslim from restive Darfur and was visiting his family in the capital, Khartoum, en route to starting work on another volunteer project for the nongovernmental organization Sudan Sunrise in recently independent South Sudan. In the past, he has helped build schools in the South and had plans to rebuild a church destroyed during the long civil war.
But on July 3, Dawod was arrested after his group Girifna, which means "We're Fed Up" in Arabic, organized a peaceful demonstration.
In June, university students started a wave of protests against the government of President Omar al-Bashir and against austerity and the high cost of living in Sudan. Rights groups say up to 2,000 people have been detained.
Speaking to France-24 television network before his arrest, Dawod said: "I'm not fighting against al-Bashir in person. He's not the only problem. I'm fighting against the discrimination. I'm fighting against the marginalization, the lack of freedom, the lack of democracy."
Dawod concluded: "We really need to do a lot in Sudan. I really love Sudan. I belong to the U.S., too, but this is my native country, so I will live here forever, and I will die in Sudan, too."
Allegations Of Spying
His wife insists her husband is innocent. "Of course, he wanted to help Girifna in sending their message of peace and justice through nonviolent demonstrations," she says.
Williams Dawod, who lives in Oregon and works at a bank, says a friend called her to tell her about her husband's detention.
"I later learned that they took Rudwan to a police station nearby," she says. "They then beat him so bad he was unconscious."
She says armed men took Dawod by car to his home, where they arrested his elderly father and his brother, both of whom she maintains are in poor health.
"They ransacked the home. They stole their rent money and valuables — even the earrings out of his sister's ears," says Williams Dawod. "And all this time, Rudwan was in the car unconscious."
She says the authorities accuse Dawod of being a spy, and that such disinformation was widely reported in the Khartoum newspapers.
"They wanted a statement out of him that he was with the FBI or the CIA. And, of course, he refused. They even threatened him that they would rape him," she says.
Williams Dawod was reportedly mentioned in articles as having taught her husband martial arts and how to handle explosives, claims she dismissed as "just ridiculous, unbelievable stories."
She told NPR her husband warned his tormentors: "Do what you want, but remember that I will tell the world, and it won't be my end but it will be your end."
The 'Sudanese Summer'
Dawod and others are facing several charges, including terrorism, which could be punishable by death.
The Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., declined to comment specifically on his case, but issued a statement saying some opportunists have "capitalized on the protests to inspire chaos or smear Sudan's image."
The statement notes:
"Concerning the sporadic protests witnessed in the country, it is important to note first that Sudan affirms and protects the right of the citizens to demonstrate as they wish, provided that the rules and regulations in place are observed, as they are principally meant to ensure public order and safety. ...
"Fair observers will note how easily things can get out of hand in such settings if the laws that regulate such an affair are not adhered to, be it Sudan or the United States. ...
"Moreover ... these protests, though by no means comparable to the ones elsewhere in the world, might very well reflect genuine grievances relating to economy and job opportunities. And indeed the government recognizes this and has been aggressively moving to tackle these same economic adversities. ... But in this process, order must prevail, not chaos."
The State Department has condemned the crackdown and the detention of the demonstrators by the Sudanese security forces.
Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch have also weighed in. HRW researcher Jehanne Henry says the Sudanese authorities are trying to discredit the opposition — including Dawod's group, Girifna.
"There are now fears that security forces have gone so far as to hack into the youth activists' Facebook and Skype and phones and, in one incident, to actually call somebody to meet them somewhere and that person was arrested," Henry says.
Tom Prichard, who founded Sudan Sunrise, the NGO Dawod has been working with, says he is being singled out.
Dawod's Girifna colleague, U.S. spokesman Ibrahim Babiker, warns that the Sudanese government simply will brook no dissent and risks making a martyr of Dawod.
Prichard and Babiker both say that intimidating and locking up demonstrators and charging them with terrorism will not dampen the "Sudanese Summer," as it has been dubbed, on the streets of Khartoum or stop a blossoming uprising against the government.
In Oregon, Williams Dawod says she understands her husband's dedication and commitment to Sudan, but right now she has just one wish: "This has been hard for us, and we take it one day at a time. We just keep praying that he'll be home soon, especially before our little baby girl, Sudan Nyala — I call her Nylie; he calls her Sudan — and I just want Rudwan here when she's born."
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In Sudan, about 2,000 demonstrators have been arrested in a recent wave of protests. About a dozen of these democracy campaigners are expected to go on trial next week. Some are facing terrorism charges that could mean a death sentence, including one American resident. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has the story.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Some are calling it Sudan's summer, more than a year after the Arab Spring and the uprisings that swept across Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
QUIST-ARCTON: Peaceful protests began with university students taking to the streets of the capital, Khartoum, in June to demonstrate against the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and the high cost of living in Sudan. Others have joined them. Among the protestors was Rudwan Dawod. He's been working for a U.S.-based NGO called Sudan Sunrise, building schools and rebuilding churches in South Sudan.
Dawod - a Muslim from troubled Darfur - is also a member of the youth movement Girifna, which in Arabic means we're fed up. On the third of July, Dawod was detained. His wife, Nancy Williams Dawod, speaking by phone from Oregon, said her husband travelled to Khartoum to visit his family.
NANCY WILLIAMS DAWOD: And, of course, Rudwan wanted to help Girifna in sending their message of peace and justice through non-violent demonstrations. So he and other Girifna members had organized and led a peaceful protest on July 3rd. That's when I first heard that he had been arrested.
QUIST-ARCTON: Williams Dawod said a dear friend called her up to let her know.
DAWOD: I later learned that they took Rudwan to a police station nearby, and they beat him so bad he was unconscious. They then took him to his home with armed men and they arrested his father - an elderly man - and his brother. And all this time, Rudwan was in the car, unconscious. And they ransacked the home. They stole their rent money and valuables, and even the earrings out of his sister's ears.
QUIST-ARCTON: Dawod and others are facing several charges, including terrorism, which could be punishable by death. The Sudanese Embassy in Washington declined to comment specifically about his case, but issued a statement saying some opportunists have capitalized on the protests to inspire chaos or smear Sudan's image.
The State Department has condemned the crackdown and arrests by the Sudanese security forces. Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch have also weighed in. Human Rights Watch researcher Jehanne Henry says the authorities are trying to discredit the opposition, including Dawod's group, Girifna.
JEHANNE HENRY: There are now fears that security forces have gone so far as to hack into the youth activists' Facebook and Skype and phones and, in one incident, to actually call somebody to meet them somewhere, and that person was arrested.
QUIST-ARCTON: Dawod's wife Nancy in Oregon says she understands her husband's dedication and commitment to Sudan, but right now she has just one wish.
DAWOD: We just keep praying that he'll be home soon, especially before our little baby girl, Sudan Nyla - I call her Nylie. He calls her Sudan. And I just want Rudwan here when she's born.
QUIST-ARCTON: Their baby is due in September.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.