Editor kidnapped and beheaded

New York, September 6, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores the kidnapping and beheading in Sudan of a newspaper editor. Masked gunmen bundled Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed, editor-in-chief of the private daily Al-Wifaq, into a car outside his home in east Khartoum late Tuesday. Police found his severed head next to his body today in the south of the capital. His hands and feet were bound, according to a CPJ source and news reports.

Mohammed Taha had previously angered Islamists by running an article about the Prophet Muhammad. He had also written critically about the political opposition and armed groups in Sudan’s western Darfur region, according to press reports. No group has claimed responsibility for the killing, Reuters reported.

Mohammed Taha, 50, was an Islamist and former member of the National Islamic Front. But in May last year, he was detained for several days, his paper was closed for three months, and fined 8 million Sudanese pounds (US$3,200), after he offended the country’s powerful Islamists by republishing an article from the Internet that questioned the ancestry of the Prophet Muhammad. Demonstrators outside the courthouse demanded he be sentenced to death for blasphemy. Sudan is religiously conservative and penalizes blasphemy and insulting Islam with the death penalty.

Six-months ago, unidentified assailants set fire to the offices of Al-Wifaq, badly damaging the building. The perpetrators were never identified, a CPJ source said.

“We condemn the brutal murder of Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the Sudanese authorities to find those responsible for the heinous act and bring them to justice.”

Several Sudanese journalists gathered at the Khartoum morgue to protest the murder and demand government protection for the press.

The Arabic-language satellite news channel Al-Jazeera said Mohammed Taha had fought many battles with the government and the opposition parties over his writings and made many political enemies. Because of the article about the Prophet he had received telephone threats from militant Islamic groups in Sudan.

Over the past month, freedom of the press in Sudan has been heavily curtailed. On August 30, Khartoum police beat Ibrahim Muhammad, a cameraman for the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera, and seized his camera during a banned demonstration against rises in fuel and sugar prices, Reuters reported. On August 26, a court in El-Fasher charged Paul Salopek, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Chicago Tribune, along with his Chadian interpreter and driver, with espionage, illegally disseminating information, and writing “false news.”
Tomo Kriznar, a Slovenian freelance photographer was detained in Darfur on July 19 and sentenced on August 14 to two years in prison on what CPJ considers a spurious charge of espionage. Read CPJ’s protest letter.