'I have been fighting for my beliefs for 52 years'

September 6, 2008

Soubhi Iskander is a candidate in the September 13 Blacktown City Council elections. He is standing on a Socialist Alliance ticket, which includes fellow Sudanese activist Hassan Elnour Abaid and queer rights activist Rachel Evans.

Iskander is a 70-year-old political activist with a long history of involvement in struggles for people's rights. "I have been fighting for my beliefs for 52 years", he told Green Left Weekly.

Iskander joined the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) in 1956, two years after its founding. "I came to the conclusion that there are only two ways in this life — either you stay with the people, which means making every effort for the good of the people, or you remain an egoistic, surviving parasite", he explained. " The party that reflected my beliefs was the Sudanese Communist Party."

In the 52 years since Sudan achieved its independence, it has only had 10 years of multi-party democracy. "During that time, we had three coups — the first lasting six years, the second 16 years and the last one, that still continues, has lasted 18 years. That means that we have spent 40 years of our independence under military rule", Iskander explained.

"The military usually try to repress the parties", Iskander said. "They say that the parties are the root of all evil. But what they mean is the parties that are fighting for the people — and among those is the Sudanese Communist Party — are the problem."

The possible consequences of being a member of the SCP included "jail, torture, and a death sentence", Iskander said.

"In 1971 the Nemari military regime, arrested all the central committee of the Sudanese Communist Party and killed six of its members. Between 1971 and 1985, I was jailed three times, usually without any appearance in court — just arrest and detention. You never know when you're arrested, how long you will be held. Sometimes when they feel sure of themselves, they'll let you free."

"I was always arrested on May 1", Iskander said. "On May 1, all the communist activists were usually arrested and jailed for five days or so and then released.

"In 1989, we had another military coup and I was jailed and tortured, along with other SCP members. They beat us, they put us in a wet room and gave us electric shocks and they also burned us with cigarettes, particularly in the back. They broke the fingers of some of us. Unfortunately, 13 members of the SCP died during the torture", he continued.

Iskander was jailed from 1989 to 1990 and then freed, only to be arrested again in 1993. "In 1994, by bribing police, I secured a passport and a visa and went to Egypt and then to Australia as a political refugee", he said.

Iskander initially joined the ALP on coming to Australia, thinking it "a party of labour". He left soon after, having discovered that it was in fact a "corporate-labour party".

"We went to the meetings, three others and I and we listened to the discussion — it was like thieves dividing a ransom", Iskander said.

In 1996-97, Iskander and other Sudanese political refugees established the Sudanese Australia Human Rights Association "to advocate for people who are persecuted in Sudan and make the Australian people aware of what is happening there". The association received no support from the Australian government, Iskander explained, as "they have their own agenda".

"We tried to defend Sudanese people in Australia against any form of racism", he said. "We came to the conclusion that there is racism in Australia, even though people say that that is only in the past.

"A member of the Sudanese community came to me and said that he couldn't find a place to live with his wife and family. Every time he went to an agent to apply for a rental [house], when the agent told the landlord that 'he's black', the landlords said they didn't want him."

The Sudanese man was told by the NSW Department of Housing that he would have to wait seven years until he could receive public housing, "so he'd have to live in a park for seven years — just because he's black!" Iskander exclaimed.

"Because of these issues and because the Sudanese people feel that they can't do anything about it on their own, we went to the Socialist Alliance, because we think that with them we can explain the issues", Iskander said.

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