A Sudanese court on Thursday sentenced six members of a feared paramilitary force to death for killing six protesters during a 2019 demonstration over food and fuel shortages.
The protesters, including four schoolchildren, were shot dead in July 2019 in the city of Al-Obeid in North Kordofan, sparking outrage across Sudan.
Days later, nine members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary unity were arrested.
At their trial on Thursday, broadcast on Sudan TV, Judge Mohamed Rahma sentenced six of the defendants to death, acquitted two others, and referred one to a juvenile court, as he was under 18.
Rahma said the actions of six found guilty were “unnecessary”, and were “not on par with” the alleged verbal provocations by protesters during the otherwise peaceful demonstration.
In Sudan, death sentences are usually carried out by hanging, but the six may appeal the ruling.
Families of the victims demanded “retribution” for the killings during the trial.
The RSF was formed in 2013 under now-ousted president Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled in April 2019 following mass protests against his rule.
The paramilitary group grew out of Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, which were deployed by Bashir’s government to crush an ethnic minority rebellion in the western Darfur region in 2003.
The RSF is led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, known as Hemeti, who is now a senior member of Sudan’s ruling council.
Sudan has been led by a civilian-military transition since August 2019, vowing to ensure justice to victims of violence.
A protest movement has long blamed the RSF for deadly violence against demonstrators, including June 2019 breaking up of a mass sit-in Khartoum.
In 2019, protesters set up a sprawling encampment outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, calling for an end to Bashir’s rule.
The camp remained for weeks after his ouster, demanding a transition to civilian rule.
In June 2019, armed men in military fatigues stormed the site and launched a days-long crackdown that left at least 128 people dead, according to medics linked to the protest movement.
Sudan’s ruling generals at the time denied ordering the bloody dispersal and called for a probe into the incident.
An investigation committee was launched in late 2019 to look into the events but has yet to finish its inquiry.