New York, April 23, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the one-month prison sentence handed down by a Sudanese criminal court on April 10 to Islam Salih, Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in Sudan.
Salih’s lawyer, Abdel Salam Al-Gizouly, told CPJ that Salih was found guilty of several charges, including spreading false news and obstructing a public employee from doing his duty. He said that the charges stem from a December 2003 incident in which government agents confiscated equipment from Al-Jazeera’s office in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, claiming that it was improperly brought into the country. Al-Gizouly said that while the agents were in the office, Salih, who had the office’s transmitter turned on, told Al-Jazeera editors in Doha, Qatar, that security agents had stormed the office and were confiscating equipment. Al-Jazeera subsequently broadcast Salih’s statements on its news bulletin.
Al-Gizouly said that the agents never produced identification, but that Salih assumed they were security agents since he had been harassed by security agents in the days leading up to the confiscation. Al-Gizouly also said that the equipment that the agents claimed was brought into the country improperly was legally brought into Sudan and in use by Al-Jazeera since August 2003.
Salih was detained for several days in December following the confiscation, and Sudanese authorities called Al-Jazeera’s coverage of fierce fighting between rebels and government troops in Darfur, a region in western Sudan, “false,” according to press reports. (In recent weeks, Sudanese authorities have restricted the travel of journalists to Darfur.) But when Salih was charged, authorities never mentioned any of Salih’s reporting on Darfur. They claimed that the false reporting charge stemmed from Salih’s report in which he referred to the security agents who confiscated the equipment, while the authorities claimed they were customs agents.
Al-Gizouly said that Sudanese authorities have regularly harassed Al-Jazeera’s Khartoum bureau, calling Salih in for questioning and complaining to him and his editors in Doha about his coverage. Al-Gizouly said that the problems between authorities and Salih increased when the Khartoum bureau acquired transmission equipment that allowed the station to transmit reports to Al-Jazeera’s headquarters without having to use equipment owned by the Sudanese government that can easily be monitored.
In addition to the prison sentence, Salih was fined one million Sudanese pounds (US$400).
Al-Gizouly has filed an appeal.
“We strongly condemn this prison sentence and demand that Islam Salih be released immediately and allowed to work without further government interference,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.