KHARTOUM Sudanese security forces on Sunday blocked activists trying to deliver a petition criticising the government to the country's human rights commission, drawing a rare rebuke from the state-appointed body.
Sudan has avoided mass "Arab Spring" protests that unseated rulers in Egypt and Tunisia, but President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who seized power in 1989, has faced dissent over a severe economic crisis and corruption.
Before the activists arrived, police and plain clothed security agents, some armed with batons, pulled up in cars and spread out at the front gate to bar entry to the commission, witnesses said.
"Plain clothed agents beat several activists trying to submit their petition and also journalists covering the protest," a witness told Reuters. Policemen also grabbed placards held up by the protesters.
Around 40 human rights activists had called for the protest at the Human Rights Commission in Khartoum to criticise the government for what they called obstruction of the work of civil society.
Staff at the commission, whose head was appointed by Bashir, came out of the building to ask police to let the activists deliver their letter, but police refused.
The commission, which rarely criticises the government, condemned the breakup as an "attack" on the commission.
"The commission rejects this behaviour. It is a clear violation of the constitution...and the law regulating the Human Rights Commission," it said in a statement.
"This will be also considered as attack on the inviolability of the commission and its immunity."
The security forces were not immediately available to comment.
Sudanese police fired teargas on university students in early December after four days of protests which followed the death of four students from Darfur.
The demonstrations were the most sustained to hit Sudan after a wave of protests against government austerity measures in June.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Rosalind Russell)