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Two newspaper editors detained for refusing pay fine

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF condemns the arrests on 18 November 2007 of Mahjoub Ourwa, the chairman of the independent, Arabic-language daily "Al-Sudani", and Noureddine Madani, the newspaper's editor, for refusing to pay a court-ordered fine for allegedly libelling the national intelligence service in a report about the arrests of four journalists.

"Imprisoning journalists for defaming the intelligence services is unfair and disproportionate, and does not redress the alleged wrong," RSF said. "In a democracy, a media regulatory body should be in charge of supervising the press, not the criminal justice system. These journalists, who were just doing their job, are subject to archaic laws whose overhaul is long overdue. The severity of the punishment is not only incomprehensible but also contrary to international standards on press freedom."

A Khartoum court sentenced Ourwa and Madani on 17 November to a fine of 10,000 Sudanese pounds (3,500 euros) each or two months in prison in a libel suit brought by the national intelligence service over a report by Madani on 20 July about the arrests of four journalists, one of them employed by "Al-Sudani".

The four journalists were arrested while trying to cover protests in the northern Kajbar region against the construction of a dam (see IFEX alert of 18 June 2007). Four people were killed in clashes between police and local residents during the demonstrations.

After Ourwa and Madani filed an appeal and refused the pay the fine, they were arrested and taken to Khartoum's Obdurman prison "to allow them to reconsider the matter." As appeals are not usually handled very quickly, they could remain there for at least a week. On 18 November, "Al-Sudani" lawyers requested suspension of the sentence until the outcome of the appeal.

In May, "Al-Sudani" was temporarily closed by the government and two journalists were jailed for three days as a result of a complaint by the justice minister (see alert of 22 May 2007).

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