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Persecuted Sudanese journalist flees country


Editor of Shuttered Newspaper Receives Grant for Writers at Risk

NEW YORK, Nov. 12, 2003 (HRW) — A prominent independent journalist has been forced to flee Sudan in the face of persecution by the Sudanese government, Human Rights Watch said today.

Nhial Bol, former managing editor and reporter at the Khartoum Monitor, Sudan’s only daily English-language newspaper [see in Background section below], fled Sudan to Kenya in late October following repeated government actions against the Monitor, and arrests and threats against his life. The Monitor was shut down several times this year by the government, most recently in September. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned the Sudanese government’s attacks on the independent media.

On November 1, Bol received an emergency grant from the Hellman/Hammett fund for persecuted writers, which is administered by Human Rights Watch. Last year the Monitor received one of the annual Hellman/Hammett grants after continual closings by security forces and spurious court proceedings by the Sudanese government threatened the newspaper’s existence.

Bol intends to move to southern Sudan and start a newspaper in the territories of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). Ongoing peace negotiations to end the 20-year civil war between the SPLM/A and the government should be finalized by the end of the year. The United States has played a major role in mediating these peace talks. Under the peace agreement, a regional government will be formed in the south, with the SPLM/A as the dominant party.

As a rebel group, the SPLM/A has had no track record of handling an independent press, because the rebel area lacks suitable communications and infrastructure. As it becomes a key player in the regional government, however, its performance will be watched closely.

"An independent press will have a critical role to play in the future of Sudan, both in the south as well as the north," said Jemera Rone, Human Rights Watch’s Sudan researcher. "The international community needs to support Nhial Bol and other journalists like him so that they can continue to shine a light on human rights abuses."

Nhial Bol was managing editor of the Monitor since its founding in 2000. The only English-language daily in the country, the newspaper served Khartoum’s large southern Sudanese population and reported on matters related to peace and dialogue between northern and southern Sudan. The newspaper’s articles on the peace process between the government and the rebel SPLM/A, human rights abuses by security forces, slavery, and the treatment of southern Sudanese aroused the ire of the Khartoum government, which subjected the Monitor and the rest of Sudan’s independent newspapers to censorship, intimidation and confiscation. Bol was arrested on dozens of occasions by government security forces.

After the government-controlled National Press Council in February instructed newspapers not to report on the peace process, there was a new wave of crackdowns against the independent press. Monitor reporter Edward Tersu Lado was arrested and detained for 10 days in March, and a Khartoum criminal court in May shut down the Monitor for two months. In June, the Court of Crimes Against the State, a Sudanese security court, revoked the Monitor’s publishing license permanently, found Bol and reporter William Ezekiel guilty of crimes against the state, and fined the newspaper 400,000 Sudanese dinars (US$1,554). After being allowed to reopen on September 13, the newspaper was ordered shut down again two days later. The Khartoum Monitor remains closed.

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