Home | News    Thursday 5 July 2007

Govt tortured accused in Sudan murder trial-defence

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July 4, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — Defence lawyers for 19 people on trial for the beheading of a prominent Sudanese journalist on Wednesday accused government interrogators of torturing their clients to extract confessions.

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Mohamed Taha Mohamed Ahmed

Government investigators have levelled several charges against the 17 men and two women, including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, abetting murder and the kidnapping of Mohammed Taha, editor of the Arabic-language al-Wifaq daily.

"The defendants are all innocent," defence lawyer Ahmed Tijani told Reuters. "Interrogators obtained the confessions through torture," he said.

Taha’s decapitated body was found on a dirt road, his hands and legs tied and head lying next to his corpse, in September last year.

He had drawn protests from Islamic groups in 2005 by reprinting a series of articles questioning the roots of the Prophet Mohammad.

Taha was an Islamist, but his criticism of other Islamic groups angered many.

REPORTING BAN

Sudanese authorities had initially banned all reporting of the trial except for state media, closing one independent daily for publishing facts of the case. The ban was later lifted.

During the hearing, the lead police investigator, Abdul Rahim Ahmed Abdul Rahim said the defendants committed or conspired to commit the crime, saying their motives were "political, ethnic and financial."

All the defendants hail from the war-ravaged region of Darfur and most belong to the Fur tribe, the largest ethnic group in the region.

Mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in Darfur in early 2003, accusing the central government of neglect. International experts estimate 200,000 people have died over four years of rape, killing, looting and disease, which has driven 2.5 million from their homes. Khartoum puts the death toll at 9,000.

Abdul Rahim said the defendants had been infuriated by an article in Taha’s paper. A defence lawyer said the article had played down reports about rape in Darfur and used unflattering language to describe Darfurian women.

Two of the defendants are affiliated with the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement, Abdul Rahim told the court.

Defence lawyers said two others were members of the opposition Popular Congress Party of Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi and two from the ruling National Congress Party of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Abdul Rahim said one of the defendants testified that they had been promised 200 million Sudanese pounds ($100,000) for Taha’s murder, but did not elaborate.

The evidence police presented against the defendants included written and taped confessions and a simulation of the crime by some the defendants captured on CDs.

"They were tortured," defence lawyer Yahya Mursal Abu Shouk said.

The trial continues on Saturday.

(Reuters)

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