Imprisonment of three journalists and confiscation of their newspaper!
Three opposition Sudanese journalists have been sentenced, this month by a Khartoum North court to imprisonment and their newspaper was closed down.
The Sudanese authorities raided Ray Alshaab newspaper headquarters on July 16, held up the publication, confiscated properties and arrested journalists. The newspaper is allied to the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP).
Abu Bakr Alamin, Ray Alshaab newspaper deputy editor- in -chief published an article questioning the popularity of President Al Bashir among Sudanese people and casted shadows on the credibility of the April Presidential and parliamentary elections. In his opinion article, He also alleged that Iran had built a weapons factory, north of Khartoum to supply Somali and Yemeni and other insurgents in Africa and the Middle East with weapons.
Under heightened measurements, Judge Mudathir Rasheed of Khartoum North Criminal Court announced the ruling over four journalists: Abuzar Ali Alamin sentenced to five years where, Dhar, Tahir abu Jawhara, and Ashraf Abdul Aziz were sentenced to two for each. A fourth journalist Ramadan Mahjoub acquitted.
The court accused Abu Zar of undermining the regime, spying on the country, terrorism, publishing false news and violating public security. He and his colleagues were convicted according to article (50) of the Sudanese penal criminal code of 1991, which endorses undermining the constitutional order and article (66) that tackles publication of false news. Article 50 provides for a life sentence or death penalty. Alamin's lawyer appealed for leniency.
The three detained journalists are members of the (PCP), led by Dr. Alturabi who was sponsoring the sitting Islamic government since the coup d'etat in 1989. In mid 1999 a feud conflict began between Turabi and President Al Bashir who legalized the registration of the political parties the same year after being banned. Dr Turabi formed his party and led the opposition. Since then Turabi has become a guest to Sudan prisons more than five times. The last one was in past May; Just shortly before the confiscation of his PCP's newspaper and detention of its journalists.
The court has accused Ray Ash-Shaab (People’s Opinion) of undermining the constitution, Sudan's foreign ties as well as disseminating false news about Iran’s military ties with sudan and the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Gurard in one of the giant factories north of Khartoum concerned with automotive industry.
The verdict came as a surprise to journalists in print press and online media , who considered the15th May the worst day in the history of Sudanese press. Six newspapers including Alayyam, Almedan, Alsahafa, Alakhbar, Alahdath, and Ajrasss Alhuriyya temporarily suspended publication of their print editions last Saturday in solidarity with the news paper and its detained journalists.
Abu Bakr Abdel Razek PCP Judiciary Department consultant described the ruling as « a surprise that questions the Justice and Judiciary in Sudan». He said in a press conference: «this is the third time when a judge sentenced Sudanese press in case of publishing violation. The first time was in 1924 during British Colonialism, the second ruled last year when the Court of Khartoum North sentenced legal advisor Kamal Hassan Omar, from PC for six months for publication violation and news dissemination.
Abdelomneim Osman Idriss defence's lawyer told the Committtee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on 16th May that the defendants would appeal, adding that the three are being held in Kober Prison in Khartoum, which is notorious for its abusive treatment of detainees.
During investigation, it was claimed that Abazar and his colleagues had been subjected to torture. A photo of him leaked to media, showed a big bruise on his right side (see the attached photo). According to Alsharq Arabic daily newspaper, Abu Zar was tortured while he was detained in the State Security Premises as well as three of his colleagues during the process of investigation. The newspaper added that he told his lawyer that three of his colleagues: Nagi Dahab, Ashraf Abdelazizand Abu Baker Al-Sammani, all held in the same building with him, also showed marks of torture.
Muna Abu Bakr, Abu Zar's wife who gave weekly account and reports on his case, on Sudanese online website, confirmed the validity of this information and gave more details on the mistreatment to which her husband was exposed to. Ms Abu Bakr in her online regular reports and video shootings on youtube, recalled that once while her husband was taken to the clinic, he was brutally beaten in front of the doctor until he fell unconscious. While he was gradually regaining consciousness he was forced to sign a document of which he was unaware of the content.
She went on to say that after repeated requests and intense pressure from the family Abu Zar was assessed by a doctor who reported that there was a large amount of blood in his urine, possible damage to his left kidney, bruises all over his body and significant damage to his bowels. Muna also doubted possible damage to her husband's legs, because he couldn’t walk properly, as she reported.
IHRC urged the Sudanese government to stop resorting to violence and torturing detainees and "abide by the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." It also called on the Sudanese authorities to secure journalists prisoners the right to a fair trial articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Reporters without borders condemned the sentence and described as an effort to intimidate opposition: “These three journalists have been convicted just for doing their job,” Reporters without Borders said. “These verdicts are unjust and are clearly aimed at silencing the opposition press in Sudan. We firmly condemn this kind of intimidation.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Sudanese authorities to overturn convictions and prison sentences against three journalists working for Rai al-Shaab confiscate newspaper. “We call on the appeals court to overturn this politicized verdict and to reopen the newspaper”. “It is outrageous that the Sudanese authorities penalize opposition journalists and close their newspaper. This practice needs to stop.” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney to the CPJ website.
Worth mentioning that during the court’s hearing, the first defendants’ defense team withdrew from the hearing following the prosecution and judges’ rejection of three out of four witnesses who were summoned by the defense to corroborate testimonies, on the ground that they were opposition. Rejected witnesses included Yasser Arman, Deputy Secretary General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) , Muzdalifa Mohamed Othman, and Chief News Editor of al-Hadath newspaper and Ali, Director of Ceremonies at the Presidential Palace. Faisal Mohamed Saleh, was the only Media Expert witness allowed to testimony.
Should be noted here the return of prior publication surveillance to Sudan immediately following the end of the elections that ever took occurred in two decades and promised democracy. It became a normal phenomenon that newspapers cancel publication because of the many pages been snatched at the last moments by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) who assigned this mission.
In Sudan there are 50 newspapers with an average of 500 daily sold copies .Newspaper circulation rates are currently experiencing a downward trend and printing industry no longer an attractive industry.
On july 6 Sudan announced that it has indefinitely suspended Alinitbaha Arabic daily newspaper owned by Al Tayeb Mustafa, an uncle to president Omar Hassan AlBashir on the ground that it encourages secessionists tendencies and undermine the unity of the country. Worth mentioning the newspaper was established in 2007 and had a clear cut vision of separating the south of Sudan from the north.