Home | News    Friday 10 August 2007

Defendants in Sudan beheading trial retract confessions

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August 9, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — Two defendants charged with the beheading of a prominent Sudanese journalist on Thursday retracted earlier confessions, saying they were coerced into making them by security forces.

Nineteen people, including two women, are on trial charged with murder, abetting murder and the kidnapping of Mohammed Taha, editor of the Arabic-language al-Wifaq daily.

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

Taha drew 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.

The chief investigating police officer told the court during an earlier hearing that the defendants, all from Sudan’s Darfur region, had been infuriated by an article in Taha’s paper, which used unflattering language to describe Darfuri women.

Defendants Ishaq al-Sannusi and Abdel Hai Omar told the judge presiding over the case, Osama Osman, they had no hand in the crime.

"I do not know anything about the death of the deceased," said Sannusi.

Osman read out to the court Sannusi’s testimony provided by an investigating judge.

Sannusi told the court the testimony had been prepared in advance and he was simply called in to sign. He said before his meeting with the investigating judge, a police officer waved an injection filled with liquid at him.

Sannusi said the officer told him: "If you do not comply, I’ll inject you with this, cut you in two and put the pieces in a sack."

Omar said he too had nothing to do with the murder.

"I do not know anything about this case," Omar pleaded.

Most of the defendants hail from the Fur tribe, the largest ethnic group in Darfur.

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.

Sannusi quoted a senior police officer as telling him during interrogation: "I returned from Darfur four months ago. I killed all the Furs in Darfur and we raped their women."

The defendants said security officials ordered them to come up with names of those they wished to implicate and used torture to extract confessions after they refused to accept money.

"We filed a case against the security on this matter, but it was rejected," lead defence lawyer, Kamal Omar, told Reuters.

The prosecution declined to comment.

The trial has seen some dramatic developments since it opened in February.

Once a hearing had to be held inside a prison so that one of the defendants, who gave birth in detention, could follow. Both female defendants have babies.

Another hearing had to be postponed because the court mistakenly summoned the wrong witness.

And in a setback for the prosecution, a key witness, who said she overheard three defendants plotting the murder, failed to identify two of them in court.

The evidence police presented against the defendants included written and taped confessions and a video simulation of the crime by some the defendants, filmed by authorities while the accused were in detention.

Sannusi and Omar told the court security officials lied to them about the video, telling them they were working on a television serial.

(Reuters)

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