In the early afternoon on Saturday, 10 armed men stormed the Khartoum home of Dr Alaa Nogod and took him, as his younger brother and mother watched on helplessly.
According to his family, the men claimed to belong to Sudan’s military intelligence and confiscated Nogod’s laptop, notebooks, passport and mobile phone. They then drove away without saying where they were taking him.
“They kicked Alaa between his shoulder and his neck,” Nogod’s mother, Alawia, told Al Jazeera. “I want to have news about him. I’m really afraid because I know they don’t treat people well.”
Nogod has long been an outspoken critic of former President Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party (NCP).
As the spokesperson for the Sudanese Professionals Association – an umbrella union that was instrumental in bringing down al-Bashir in 2019 – he has long blamed remnants of the former regime for attempting to sabotage Sudan’s transition to democracy.
But since leading NCP figures declared their support for the army in its conflict with the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces last month, Nogod and other prominent al-Bashir critics have become the target of threats and smear campaigns.
One al-Bashir era officer from the army, Tariq al-Hadi, uploaded a video on Facebook and YouTube where he accused Nogod of being a “disbeliever”.
Nogod’s friends and colleagues have also alleged that unknown people fabricated a Facebook conversation between him and the RSF on May 24.
While Al Jazeera was unable to verify the authenticity of the Facebook conversation, Nogod accused members of the former regime of using photo editing software to make it look like he was conspiring with the RSF. He was taken three days later.
“Just the other day, [Nogod] spoke about a defamation campaign against him with his brother. He told him ‘I’m not afraid,’ said Alawia.
Al Jazeera has attempted to reach out to army spokesman Nabil Abdullah for comment on the detention of activists, but no response has been received.
‘He would always say the truth’
Nogod, despite his medical career in Sudan, had a larger ambition to help bring about democratic change in the country, according to his friends and family.
In 2019, he became a member of a loose bloc of political parties and civil society groups that formed what is now known as the Forces for Freedom and Change – Central Command (FFC-CC).
The FFC-CC came under heavy criticism from grassroots pro-democracy groups for agreeing to partner with the military and the RSF to form a transitional government in the months after al-Bashir was removed from power.
Nogod’s close friends said that he retained their respect after joining the Federal Ministry of Health in 2020. One of his former colleagues in the ministry, who did not disclose her name for fear of reprisal, said that Nogod had dared to look into past misconduct in the health sector.
She did not elaborate for fear of putting him in more danger, but added that Nogod ruffled some feathers.
“If everybody was in a room, and there was one opinion nobody wanted to say, then he would always say the truth, regardless,” she told Al Jazeera. “He was outspoken politically and not everyone liked that about him.”
Nogod continued to speak out against the army after the October 2021 military coup, which derailed Sudan’s transition to democracy.
In the months following the coup, top army commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan restored NCP figures to powerful positions in the state bureaucracy.
“I was always afraid of him speaking out. I told him to please stop, but he always told me that he wasn’t afraid,” Alawia told Al Jazeera.
Attempting to stay neutral
When the war erupted on April 15, Nogod was one of the dozens of members of the Sudanese Doctor’s Union who stayed in Khartoum to help the wounded.
“Dr Nogod always exposes himself to danger for the sake of the Sudanese people,” said his close friend Mohamed Sigeir, a pharmacist and a fellow member of the FFC.
Within a couple of days, emergency rooms across the city were overwhelmed with patients who needed life-saving assistance. Yet, it became increasingly difficult – often impossible – to save them due to the crumbling healthcare sector.
The RSF often raided hospitals, evicted healthcare staff and turned healthcare facilities into military outposts. The army has also indiscriminately shelled the few hospitals still functioning in the capital, as well as hitting them in air attacks.
Nogod, however, continued to speak to media outlets and condemned the attacks. On May 24, he told Al Jazeera that the military seized aid shipments from the World Health Organization, which were supposed to go to hospitals in Khartoum.
Nogod also explained to Al Jazeera that he was refraining from definitively identifying the perpetrators of raids and attacks on medical facilities in an effort to not provoke a backlash from either side.
However, he was subjected to smear campaigns and threats that alleged that he was supporting the RSF. Since his detention, some supporters of the Sudanese army have made similar accusations against him over Twitter.
“The last time I spoke to him, I told him that there is a trap being cooked up against you by the previous regime,” said Siegir.
“Personally, I kept warning him … and I was astonished to [learn] that he was in his house and that he didn’t hide anywhere,” added Abdelmonem el-Tayeb, a close friend of Nogod. “When I asked him if he was hiding, he told me ‘I’m in a safe place.’”
While Nogod’s whereabouts remain unknown, his detention has prompted a number of activists and unions to call for his immediate release. But others feared that they could suffer a similar fate if they advocate for his freedom publicly. The nature of Nogod’s detention, and the lack of information surrounding it, has also added to the sense that Sudan is growing increasingly lawless as the conflict in the country continues.
“No one should be punished for criticising something that SAF or NCP did or for having an opinion,” said Nogod’s former colleague from the health ministry.
“Dr Nogod is a role model [to me]. He is a father figure,” she added.