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More journalists hounded, prosecuted for covering human rights violations

(RSF/IFEX) - 18 June 2011 - Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns the disgraceful way the authorities are harassing and prosecuting journalists in Khartoum and the north of the country in an attempt to silence them and stop embarrassing revelations about human rights violations by the security forces.

"While the international community and media have their attention turned to South Sudan's future independence and the fighting in Abyei and South Kurdufan, the human rights and media freedom situation continues to be very worrying in the north," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Despite a great deal of prior censorship, the government and security forces now want to force journalists to censor themselves. The recent arrests of journalists and the prosecutions initiated against them are likely to dissuade the media from covering crimes by the security forces. Since the start of this year, any criticism of the security forces has been liable to lead to court proceedings.

"We denounced the harassment of journalists and the way the judicial apparatus was being used against them in March. Since then, the situation has become even worse and could lead to a complete news blackout on human rights violations in the north of the country."

According to a Reporters Without Borders tally, around 10 journalists and media contributors have received court summonses or are subject to judicial investigations that are almost certainly the result of complaints brought by the security forces.

The following journalists were on an unofficial list that the security forces submitted to the justice ministry: Faisal Mohamed Salih, Babikir Omer Al-Garrai, Abdalla Al-Shaik, Mohamed Latif, Faiz Al-Selaik, Amal Habani, Fatima Ghazali, Saadeldin Ibrahim, Mohamed Osman and Dr. Nahid Al-Hassan.

All of them have written or contributed to articles condemning human rights activist Safia Ishag's arrest, torture and gang-rape by members of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in February.

They are liable to be prosecuted under the 1991 Criminal Code and the 1999 Press Act on charges of defaming and spreading false information about the security forces, which are protected by the National Security Act.

One of the latest cases involves three journalists with the daily Al-Jarida, who appeared before the Press Court on 12 June: Amal Habani, who was already questioned by judicial officials in March, Fatima Ghazali and Saadeldin Ibrahim, the newspaper's editor.

Habani and Ibrahim were summoned to appear again on 16 June, when judge Modather Al-Rasheed, after hearing evidence from NISS representatives and their lawyers, decided to prosecute them under article 66 of the Criminal Code (concerning false information), article 24 of the Press Act (on the duties and obligations of journalists) and article 26 of the Press Act (on the duties of editors). The next hearing will be on 30 June. Ghazali is due to appear in court on 19 June, together with Ibrahim.

Two weeks before that, three journalists appeared before the Press Court in Khartoum in two separate cases on 29 May. They were Faisal Mohamed Salih, a renowned journalist working for the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Akhbar, Babikir Omer Al-Garrai, a writer who contributes to the daily Ajras Alhurriya, and Ajras Alhurriya editor Abdalla Al-Shaik.

Al-Garrai and Al-Shaik are being prosecuted for a 6 March article headlined "Rape…Under Sharia law" which urged the authorities to shed light on the mistreatment of Ishag. They are due to appear in court again on 21 June.

Salih, who is due to appear in court again on 28 June, and his newspaper's editor, Mohamed Latif, are being prosecuting on a libel charge under article of the Press Act over a 1 March story in which Salih said NISS personnel were avoiding prosecution and were enjoying complete impunity under the National Security Act although the head of the security forces had issued no express directive to this effect.

Fellow journalist Abdelazeez Al-Nagar, who went to the Press Court on 29 May in a show of support for his three colleagues, was arrested for distributing articles outside and was held for several hours.

The list of journalists targeted by the security forces grows longer by the day. They include Reporters Without Borders Sudan correspondent Faisal Elbagir, the founder of Journalists for Human Rights, who is currently in exile. Mohamed Osman, the head of the Khartoum bureau of the English-language newspaper The Citizen, and Nahid Al-Hassan, an activist and contributor to Ajras al-Hurriya and Al-Ayaam, are also being investigated and Al-Hassan has received a summons for 6 July.

Finally, Alsahafa daily journalist Gafar Alsabki Ibrahim, who has been detained together with Radio Dabanga contributors since 3 November 2010, appeared before the Khartoum Criminal Central Court on 16 June 2011. The next session, held by the judge Abdelmoniem Salim Mohamed Ali, will take place on 21 June.

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