26th October 2015
Due to the Islamic-oriented laws adopted by the Sudan in 1983, the Sudanese Criminal Act 1991 provides for articles that prohibit production, possession and consumption of alcohol. The punishment provided for in this act includes imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year as well as a fine to be decided by the judge on those involved in bootlegging, whether buying, selling, production, storing or possessing it. As a law enforcement agency, the Sudanese police force is in charge of combating production, trade and consumption of locally made alcohol. The Sudanese police forces launch regular raids on places known for bootlegging. These places are usually on the fringes of large Sudanese cities inhabited by poor people who were internally displaced from their original rural areas because of armed conflicts. Women in these areas make and sell locally made alcohol, as it is a popular and profitable trade that does not need a lot of money to invest in, but those who are caught because of involvement in bootlegging face legal risks.
Sudanese courts of law usually issue punishments upon convictions of bootlegging, which are often a two-month imprisonment in addition to a fine amounting between 1500 and 10000 SDG ($150 and $1000). In case of failure to pay the fine, there is a 4-6 months imprisonment depending on the amount of the fine. This harsh punishment failed to deter bootlegging and lead, instead, to a corrupting situation caused by deviation from established legal procedures related to the police raids to control bootlegging. This corruption situation, which is widespread in most parts of the Sudan, involves policemen in the anti-bootlegging raids haggling with women who were caught making or selling locally made alcohol, over an amount to be paid in order to release them instead of pressing charges and carrying on with the legal process, which might end in sending them to prison in addition to paying a hefty fine. These women eventually succumb to this blackmailing instead of appearing in courts, paying a hefty fines or imprisonment.
To investigate this corrupting situation, we conducted a questionnaire among a number of women involved in bootlegging in two different neighborhoods in a capital city of a Sudanese state. The first area is known for the production of locally made alcohol and the second for selling it. The questionnaire was conducted among 10 women, five women from each area. The questionnaire included the following six questions:
- Have you been through this type of blackmailing previously? If the answer is yes, how many times?
- As far as you know from the women who live in the area, how often does this blackmailing take place in the area in a week?
- How many anti-bootlegging raids does the police conduct every day in the area? Which police stations carry out these raids? At what time are they carried out?
- Are there anti-bootlegging raids carried out by the policemen without the knowledge or presence of their superiors? If the answer is yes, how did you know this? What time these raids are usually carried out?
- How much do you usually pay to the policemen in order to be released?
- How does this settlement usually happen? Is the police officer leading the raid aware of such settlement?
The results of the questionnaire were as follows:
- For the first question: 8 respondents answered with ‘yes’ conforming that they were blackmailed by policemen, while 6 of the respondents said they were blackmailed more than once. Two respondents said they have not been blackmailed.
- For the second question: 7 respondents said the blackmailing takes place 4 times a week, while two said it takes place 3 times a week, meanwhile one of the respondents said it takes place twice a week.
- For the third question: all respondents said that the anti-bootlegging raids take no specific pattern, and therefore it was not possible to know the number of raids per day. However, they said there are often two raids per day in general. A morning raid, targeting their houses where locally made alcohol is produced and an evening raid targeting the place where it is sold. They also said that the raids are sometimes more than two a day, and sometimes, according to the respondents, the raids stop completely particularly during security unrests, demonstrations and elections. According to the respondents, the raids are usually carried out by the police station where the targeted area is located as well as by the community police. . Some police stations carry out raids on areas outside their jurisdiction. .
- For the fourth question: the respondents unanimously reported unofficial raids by some policemen from different police stations without their superiors being aware of them. They knew this from some policemen who told them that such raids were carried out without the knowledge of their officers. According to the respondents, these unofficial raids usually take place after mid-night by policemen who were either not on patrols or on rickshaws, i.e. not on police vehicles.
- For the fifth question: 8 of the respondents said there is no specific amount of money agreed to in these settlements, it all depends on the quantity of alcohol seized, the mood of the policemen carrying out the raids and the bargaining ability of the bootleggers. However according to the respondents, the minimum amount to be paid, was 500 SDG ($50) and the highest amount paid was 1000 ($100) SDG.
- For the sixth question: 8 of the respondents said that the settlement is usually finalized by the policemen and the non-commissioned officers while senior officers are unaware of it. However, in some cases the settlement is completed with the knowledge and the presence of some officers (non-commissioned officers). Moreover, such settlements are only completed when the raiding policemen allow the bootleggers to keep their merchandize. It is noteworthy that the raiding police force usually hide their vehicle(s) either in a backstreet or away from the raided place, while carrying out their searches on foot. If no agreement is reached, then the vehicle(s), which carry senior officers, are called to ferry the suspects and the merchandize to the police station. If a settlement is reached, the raiding policemen contact the senior officer to report nonexistence of bootlegging in the place.
As for the cases when raids are carried out by individual policemen without their superior officer(s) knowledge, the settlement is usually carried out openly and quietly. The amounts paid are often higher compared with the settlement reached before an official raid is launched.
In order to verify these corrupting situations and corroborate the survey results, we presented these results to five retired policemen, who used to participate in similar anti-bootlegging raids in the same locality. They confirmed the existence of such corrupting situations involving various police stations in the state. They confirmed that our findings were accurate. They also added that the policemen who carry out these settlements tend to cover them by pressing charges and take legal procedure on a few bootlegging cases.
These illicit practices eventually lead to many social, psychological and legal consequences, as this arbitrary treatment worsened the suffering and poverty of these bootlegger women, whose miserable livelihood and absence of decent opportunities to earn living, have forced them into this risky trade.
Moreover, such practice stirs racial prejudices and damages the Sudanese social fabric, as the women who are involved in bootlegging come from particular areas and ethnic groups, and were forced by miserable circumstances into bootlegging. The practices of legal arbitrariness and blackmailing, nurture feelings of injustice and racial prejudice. . The continuation of such practices would also undermine the police force’s credibility as a law enforcement agency who enjoy the respect and trust of the society. To deal with these issues and avoid the negative consequences caused by these practices, the authorities have to address the root causes of bootlegging. The legal remedies and penalties provided for in the Sudanese Criminal Act 1991, have failed in practice during the last 32 years in providing an acceptable solution to bootlegging. As a matter of fact, bootlegging practices have flourished during the last 32 years. Since the harsh implementation of relevant provisions of the Sudanese Criminal Act of 1991, instead eradicating this social, economic and cultural phenomenon, it has led to corrupt legal procedures.
It is now evident that the root cause is a socio-economic rather than a legal one. Therefore, the state has to conduct social, economic and cultural studies among the women who work in this trade and provide them with the necessary assistance. The state should also allow local and foreign organizations to work among the poor who dwell the fringes of the Sudanese cities in order to provide them with services and assistance to stem poverty and alternative means for a decent livelihood.
As for the Sudanese police force, it should provide the necessary attention to the anti-bootlegging raids by developing strict administrative control to ensure integrity. Failure to pay the necessary attention to this issue resulted in the appropriate controls becoming loose, which consequently, facilitated corruption by policemen, which in turn undermined the police force respect and credibility.