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Publisher and editor of daily "al-Sudani" released after several days in detention; newspaper suspended

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called for the lifting of a ban on the Arabic-language daily "al-Sudani", under a highly controversial article of criminal code procedure, over an editorial accusing the justice minister of "lying in a money-laundering case".

The worldwide press freedom organisation however welcomed the release of the publisher and editor of the privately-owned paper, Mahgub Erwa and Osman Mirghani, who had been imprisoned on 17 May 2007 and were respectively released on 19 and 20 May.

"This case typifies one of the most glaring obstacles to press freedom in Sudan," the organisation said. "The banning of 'al-Sudani' is unwarranted in that it was decided unilaterally by the government, while there is a press regulation body whose authority was by-passed."

"Yet again the government based its decision on Article 130 of the criminal code procedure when the entire profession and the National Press Council have all challenged its validity."

Mahgoub Erwa was freed on 19 May, 24 hours before the end of his preventive detention period. Osman Mirghani, was released on 20 May on the orders of a court which refused to extend his detention, as requested by the public ministry. A journalist on the paper, Hafiz Al-Khair, was questioned about the case on 17 and 19 May.

The misuse of Article 130, which punishes any breach of the confidentiality of investigations, is one of the authorities' favourite weapons. Since the start of 2007, "al-Sudani" has fallen victim to this ambiguous piece of legislation which is supposed to prevent "influence being brought to bear on an on-going investigation". The justice ministry on 1 February banned the paper "indefinitely" for referring to the 2006 murder of the editor of the daily "al-Wifaq", Mohammed Taha, in defiance of a government imposed blackout on the case on the pretext of "preserving public order" (see IFEX alert of 2 February 2007). Protests from professional organisations - and from the National Press Council, close to the government, which questioned the legality of the decision - resulted in a climb-down by the authorities 48 hours later.

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