Sudan frees jailed human rights activist

* Ibrahim one of Sudan’s most prominent rights activists

* Many activists in exile, fearing arrest and torture

* Few independent rights groups operate in north

KHARTOUM, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Sudan has released activist Mudawi Ibrahim who was jailed last month for financial fraud in a trial rights groups denounced as a farce and part of a wider crack down on campaigners, many of whom fled the country.

After the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in 2009 for war crimes during a brutal counter-insurgency in the western Darfur region, Khartoum closed Ibrahim’s SUDO development agency, other Sudanese rights groups and expelled 13 foreign aid agencies.

Some Sudanese rights activists were arrested and said they were tortured. Many others fled the country in fear. The ICC later added genocide to the charges against Bashir.

Ibrahim said he was released on Tuesday after a month in jail when an appeal court decided — without him or his lawyer being present — that he had served enough of his one year sentence, although it upheld the sentence against him.

“They (Khartoum) are targeting all human rights activists,” he told Reuters on Wednesday. “Many of them have left the country — they want to push me out,” he added, vowing to stay.

One of Sudan’s most prominent activists, Ibrahim has been jailed three times and won an international rights award presented by Irish President Mary McAleese.

Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience.

Ibrahim said the Dec. 22 five-minute hearing which overturned an earlier acquittal from charges of financial fraud heard no new evidence.

“The judge said according to the instructions given to me I find you guilty and sentence you to one year in prison,” he said, adding the judge did not say on whose instructions or answer Ibrahim’s question as to how much money he might owe.

He was accused of embezzling funds from SUDO by the governmental Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC). No one was immediately available to comment from HAC.

“There was no evidence to start with…the whole thing is illegal,” he said. “We will take this to the Supreme Court.”

Khartoum has further restricted freedoms under pressure from a likely secession of the oil-producing south, which is viewed as a tragedy in the north. Sudan is also deep in economic crisis with rising inflation sparking protests throughout the north.

On Tuesday police said a Sudanese man died after setting fire to himself, but dismissed any political link to the death which mirrored similar self-immolations in North Africa and the Middle East in protest against repressive governments.

Underground democracy activists “Girifna” (We’re fed up) said on Wednesday three students distributing leaflets about price rises were arrested over the past week.

Last week Khartoum also arrested opposition Islamist Hassan al-Turabi and almost a dozen of his party members after they called for street protests to fight government cuts in subsidies on petroleum products and sugar.

Officials later accused them of plotting assassinations against the government but none have been charged.

(Reporting by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)

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