Home Page > News Item > SUDAN: Two journalists released, one still faces death penalty

Update #3 to RAN 36/10 13 September 2011

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC) welcomes the release from prison of Rai Al-Shaab deputy editor Abu Zar Al-Amin and Al-Sahafa journalist Jaafar Alsabki Ibrahim on 22 and 28 August 2011 respectively. Both had been detained on anti-state charges since 2010. Ibrahim has apparently been pardoned, however Al-Amin was released on bail and still faces the death penalty if convicted. The WiPC calls on the authorities to drop all remaining charges against Al-Amin. It also calls on President Omar Al-Bashir to fulfil his recent promise to release all journalists detained in Sudan and to refrain from reinstating pre-publication censorship.

Abu Zar Al-Amin (pictured right), deputy editor of the opposition daily newspaper Rai Al-Shaab, was released on bail on 22 August 2011 after spending over 15 months in prison. Arrested in May 2010, he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on 15 July 2010 for allegedly ‘undermining the constitutional system’ and ‘publishing false information’. The case reportedly stemmed from an article alleging that Iran had built a weapons factory in Sudan to supply insurgents in Africa and the Middle East. The sentence was reduced to a one year sentence on appeal, with the journalist due to be released on 3 July 2011.

However, Al-Amin’s release was delayed indefinitely after he was subsequently accused of attacking a security official. Al-Amin says that he was subjected to torture by the officer in question during his pre-trial detention in May 2010; however the authorities have failed to investigate these claims. He also faces further anti-state charges relating to articles written for Rai al-Shaab prior to his imprisonment.

Al-Amin faces the death penalty if convicted on the new charges. Reports have indicated that he has suffered from deteriorating health as a result of torture and the failure of the authorities to provide adequate medical attention in prison.

Jaafar Alsabki Ibrahim (pictured right), Darfuri journalist with the opposition newspaper Al-Sahafa, was released on 28 August 2011 after almost 10 months in detention. Arrested on 3 November 2010, he was held incommunicado until June 2011 when he was finally charged with ‘undermining the constitutional system’. His release followed an announcement by President Omar Al-Bashir on 27 August 2011 that he intended to free all journalists imprisoned in Sudan after local journalists requested pardons for their colleagues to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The charges against Ibrahim are presumed to have been dropped.

For more information on Al-Amin and Ibrahim’s cases, please see previous RAN alert: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/news/sudan-rai-al-shaab-editor-and-al-sahafa-journalist-now-face-death-penalty

Beyond Ibrahim’s release, it remains unclear what level of commitment will be given to President Al-Bashir’s promise. At least eight other journalists reportedly remain in detention in Sudan; some are believed to have worked for the banned Netherlands-based Radio Dabanga and all to have reported on Darfur, a highly sensitive subject for the Sudanese government. Despite this, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently told CNN that “to [his] knowledge, there are no other journalists detained”.

Concerns have been raised that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) intends to reintroduce highly restrictive pre-publication censorship, which was previously enforced between 1989, after the NCP first seized power, and 2009. The details of the proposed new media legislation have not been made available to the public, with journalists and human rights experts having been excluded from the deliberations. However, it seems highly likely that any such measure would present a significant obstacle to achieving freedom of expression in Sudan.

Useful Links:

On Al-Amin’s release:

•Reporters Without Borders (24 August 2011): http://en.rsf.org/sudan-journalist-freed-on-bail-but-daily-24-08-2011,40839.html
On Ibrahim’s release:

•Committee to Protect Journalists (30 August 2011): http://www.cpj.org/2011/08/sudan-frees-one-journalist-at-least-8-believed-sti.php
•Reporters Without Borders (29 August 2011): http://en.rsf.org/sudan-call-for-release-of-all-imprisoned-29-08-2011,40869.html
On the proposed restrictive media laws in Sudan:

•Index on Censorship (22 August 2011): http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2011/08/sudans-new-press-laws-will-threaten-free-speech/