July 1, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese government has been charged with using an array of underhanded legal methods to detain journalists and halt publication of independent newspapers.
- A Sudanese woman reads a local newspaper in Khartoum in 2010 (AFP PHOTOS)
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based advocacy group, Sudanese authorities continue to “aggressively” target individual journalists and publications through “contrived legal proceedings, politicized criminal charges, and confiscations.”
In a press release dated 30 June, CPJ voiced concern about the case of Abu Zir al-Amin, the deputy editor of the suspended opposition daily Rai al-Shaab who is due to be released in two days from prison where he has been serving a prison sentence since May 2010.
CPJ said that prison authorities informed al-Amin that he would not be released on 3 July as scheduled but would rather be transferred to the custody of State Security Prosecution to face further investigations.
Al-Amin was arrested in May 2010 along with two of his colleagues as the authorities suspended their daily opposition newspaper Ray al-Sha’b for reporting that members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had setup a weapon factory in Khartoum to supply arms to Hamas militants and Somali Islamist insurgents.
Subsequently, he was charged with "undermining the constitution," "terrorism and espionage," "publishing false news," "undermining the prestige of the state," and "inciting sedition."
He was originally sentenced to five years in prison but that sentence was commuted to one year by an appeals court earlier this year.
Citing members of Al-Amin’s family, CPJ said he was informed that the State Security Prosecution would be investigating two complaints that have been lodged against him.
CPJ noted that the first complaint is related “to an article predating al-Amin’s imprisonment in May 2010 for which he was being accused of the same charges on which he has already been convicted.”
It added that “the charges stem from the penal code, the anti-terrorism law, and the press and publications law, and could potentially carry the death sentence.”
"We are profoundly disturbed by the audacity and spurious nature of the charges leveled against Abu Zir al-Amin," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem.
"We call on the Sudanese government to release al-Amin by July 3 at the latest and to desist from harassing him and any other critical journalists through the judicial system or through other means," he added.
It is alleged that Al-Amin was tortured during his imprisonment. A picture of him showing evidence of torture leaked and appeared on several online outlets.
CPJ also raised the case of Jaafar al-Subki Ibrahim, a reporter for the private daily Al-Sahafah, saying he has been held incommunicado and without charge since November 2010. It noted that in early June, Ibrahim was accused of "undermining the constitutional system," adding that the charge carries “stiff prison terms and possible execution.”
Sudan’s national security law states that the period of detention is limited to three months following which the detainee must be freed or face trial.
The organisation further reported that Ibrahim’s trial has been adjourned until July 12, citing local journalists.
According to CPJ, the Sudanese daily newspaper Ajrass Al-Hurriyah, which is closely linked to the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), announced on its website that officers from Sudan’s intelligence apparatus prevented printing house staff from giving the paper’s issue of June 21 issue to distributors.
CPJ noted that the confiscation marks “the fourth such instance against Ajras al-Huriya in three months, with two incidents in April and another in early June.”
Sudan routinely targets privately owned and opposition newspapers with pre-printing censorship and confiscation of copies in order to prevent publication of contents deemed anti-government.
Results published as part of UNESCO 2011 World Press Freedom Day, Sudan ranks as 40 out of 48 in Sub-Saharan Africa for press freedom. Amnesty International described Sudan as a place where “freedom of speech is being so openly violated”.