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With his distinctive long dreadlocks and slouchy beanie, Abdallah Ahmed has always known his choice of lifestyle means trouble in Sudan, where long-oppressed Rastafarians say they are being targeted anew. © ASHRAF SHAZLY Afraa Saad sees Rastafarianism as part of Sudanese women's uphill battle against strict policing of social mores
Ahmed, 31, has for years been enamoured of the Rastafari tradition which emerged in Jamaica last century and for him represents "telling the truth, being courageous, fighting for rights". © ASHRAF SHAZLY The number of Rastafarians in Sudan is unknown, and the community was largely underground during Omar al-Bashir's rule
The number of Rastafarians in Sudan is unknown, and the community had largely lived underground under the autocratic rule of Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in April 2019 following mass protests against his regime.
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© - For some protesters in Sudan, wearing dreadlocks or Rastafari-style clothes is an act of defiance
"We were very enthused after Bashir's fall," said Ahmed, a long-time Bob Marley fan also known as "Maxman", at an art exhibition where he was performing reggae music with his band.
"Musicians and artists flourished," he said, donning brightly coloured head and wrist bands.
But a brief whiff of freedom did not last as a post-Bashir transition to civilian rule was upended last year when army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan led a military coup.
Rastafarianism considers former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to be its Messiah, but like many followers in Sudan, Ahmed told AFP that he saw it "not as a religion"
"It's a lifestyle, and it's me."
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Under Bashir, community members were regularly harassed, had their heads shaved and faced persecution under stringent public order laws restricting how people dress or behave in public.
Ahmed said he had been arrested for drug possession in 2017 while performing music in public, and was flogged 20 times.
Followers of the Rastafari tradition have always been "easy targets" for security forces due to their looks, said Ahmed.
"It however never stopped us from growing our hair," he added.
"Some of us died while holding on to their personal lifestyle."
- 'Rasta never dies' -
The killings of several Sudanese Rastafarians in mass anti-coup demonstrations since Burhan's takeover last year have given rise to a popular protest slogan, "The Rasta never dies".
At least 121 people have been killed in the crackdown on protests since the October 2021 coup, according to pro-democracy medics.
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Noting the "peacefulness and spontaneity" of the demonstrations, 35-year-old filmmaker Afraa Saad told AFP "this made us believe they were being especially targeted."
"I believe the slogan emerged to say that their good reputation will last."
Being a woman, Saad said she has faced greater scrutiny than men Rastafarians since she embraced the tradition during the height of the anti-Bashir demonstrations.
"The most persistent objection is why would a girl wear dreadlocks when there are other more acceptable hairstyles," she said, noting a "prevalent stereotype" tying dreadlocks with drug use and "unbecoming behaviour".
Saad sees her lifestyle choice as part of Sudanese women's uphill battle against strict policing of social mores since the Bashir regime.
Women were at the forefront of the mass protests against the longtime autocrat's rule, voicing their anger at decades of discrimination that severely restricted their role in society.
"I simply don't heed to this," Saad said.
"This is my identity and it's who I am."
For some in Sudan, wearing dreadlocks, listening to reggae music or having a Rasta-like lifestyle is merely an act of defiance.
Saleh Abdalla, 26, who wears his hair in short dreadlocks, said it was his way of protesting the October 2021 military coup.
"We are refusing all violations that take place on behalf of authorities," he told AFP during one anti-coup demonstration in the capital Khartoum last month.
"I will keep the Rasta (dreadlocks) until the regime falls."
China security forces are well-prepared for quashing dissent .
BEIJING (AP) — When it comes to ensuring the security of their regime, China’s Communist Party rulers don't skimp. The extent of that lavish spending was put on display when the boldest street protests in decades broke out in Beijing and other cities, driven by anger over rigid and seemingly unending restrictions to combat COVID-19. The government has been preparing for such challenges for decades, installing the machinery needed to quash large-scale upheavals. After an initially muted response, with security personnel using pepper spray and tear gas, police and paramilitary troops flooded city streets with jeeps, vans and armored cars in a massive show of force.