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WPFC protests illegal incarceration of Alhaj Warrag, editor-in-chief of "Ajras El-Hurriyya" independent newspaper

(WPFC/IFEX) - The following is a 24 March 2009 WPFC letter to President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir:

His Excellency Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir
President of the Republic of the Sudan
Presidential Palace
Khartoum, Sudan

Your Excellency:

The World Press Freedom Committee ( http://www.wpfc.org ) - an umbrella organization representing 45 press freedom groups from throughout the world - expresses its profound concern for the fate of Alhaj Warrag, editor-in-chief of "Ajras El-Hurriyya" independent newspaper, who was arrested on March 19 and taken into custody as part of an abusive court procedure.

"Ajras El-Hurriyya" is one of the very few independent publications in Sudan, one that has strived to offer different points of view about the country's most pressing issues. But this has come at a high cost. Mr. Warrag and his staff have been subject to frequent harassment and intimidation by government agents, and their publication has been regularly censored by the authorities. On March 19, the newspaper had to cancel its print edition because of an article that censors found too uncomfortable.

In past weeks, Mr. Warrag has been trying to fulfill his judicial obligations as prescribed by a criminal defamation process that dates back to 2007. After the pertinent court authorities told him there was no rush to complete the process, he decided to postpone these bureaucratic procedures. On March 19, however, after he announced his plans to travel to Germany, he was arrested, taken to prison and told he will not be released until he fulfills his court obligations, including the payment of a fine.

Arresting a journalist because of his professional activity is a serious attack not only on his fundamental human rights, including press freedom, but also on his audience who thus are deprived of important information about issues of public interest. By keeping him in prison, you also hold his audience hostage to an arbitrary decision that threatens fundamental democratic principles.

The harassment and illegal detention of members of the media represent grave violations of fundamental human rights postulates enshrined not only in the Sudanese Constitution but also in international covenants, such as the African Convention on Human and Peoples' Rights and the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), of which your country is signatory.

Article 19 of the UDHR states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and opinion; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Your Excellency, your country is still reeling from the dire consequences of one of the longest, most devastating armed conflicts in Africa's history. Sudan's international reputation is at its all-time low just when the country is in dire need of foreign aid and assistance to tackle its very grave problems. In these critical times, a free and independent media that seeks the truth and duly informs the public constitutes a critical component of any dreams of recovery.

Therefore, we urge you to exercise your executive influence to start the process that grants the immediate release and exoneration of Mr. Warrag and to put in place the necessary measures that will allow a free and independent media to fulfill its duty to keep the public informed in your country.

Respectfully,
E. Markham Bench
Executive Director
World Press Freedom Committee

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