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UN decries jailing of Sudanese journalists

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August 3, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – The United Nations (UN) has strongly condemned the prison sentences given last month on two Sudanese female journalists for speaking out against the alleged rape of a female activist by the country’s security agents.

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UN envoy Margot Wallstrom (www.menasborders.blogspot.com)

Margot Wallström, the special representative of the UN’s secretary-general on Sexual Violence in Conflict, on Wednesday said she was “very concerned” about last month’s sentencing of Amal Habani and her colleague Fatima Ghazali to a month in jail on charges of defamation stemming from an alleged case of rape of a female activist.

Habani and her colleague, both working for the privately owned Arabic daily Al-Jaridah, are the first two journalists to be sentenced to jail among a handful of their peers awaiting trial on the same charges of defamation and publication of false news brought against them by the country’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

The genesis of the case dates back to February this year when Safia Ishaq, a female activist with the youth anti-government group Girifna, appeared in a Youtube video and alleged she was raped by three NISS agents who kidnapped her following her participation in anti-government protests a month earlier.

According to Wallström, the sentences “do not only infringe on the freedom of speech and of the media, but also stifle sexual violence survivors and those who support them from speaking publicly about these crimes,” Wallström said in a statement seen by Sudan Tribune.

“Rapists – not reporters – must face criminal charges in the Sudan,” she added.

The UN official said she condemns “in the strongest terms the employment of sexual violence as a means to political ends.”

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based press-freedom watchdog, in June lamented “the disgraceful way the authorities are harassing and prosecuting journalists in Khartoum and the north of the country in an attempt to silence them and stop embarrassing revelations about human rights violation by the security forces.”

In June, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based advocacy group, said that Sudanese authorities continue to “aggressively” target individual journalists and publications through “contrived legal proceedings, politicized criminal charges, and confiscations.”

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 "openly violated”.

(ST)

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