Sudan journalists who report on rape charged with crimes

New York, June 6, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Sudan to drop criminal charges and abandon all other tactics of harassment employed against at least 10 journalists who have reported on the alleged rape and torture of a youth activist. The activist said she was raped after participating in a demonstration in January.

“Rather than address the systematic failures that enable torture and rape, the Sudanese government has chosen to subject journalists who cover them to politicized legal proceedings,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “The problem is rape and torture in government custody and a political culture that tolerates such acts.” 

Democracy youth activist Safiya Ishag was reportedly tortured and raped repeatedly in custody after being detained following her participation in a January 30 demonstration, CPJ research shows. 

In a March 8 article for pro-opposition daily Ajras al-Huriya entitled “Rape…under Sharia Law,” Omar al-Gerai, one of the journalists who have been targeted, delved into the details of Ishag’s ordeal. The article also looked critically at the Sudanese justice system and the tens of thousands of detainees that have been subjected to it.

The prosecutor of Sudan’s Press and Publications Court informed al-Gerai and Ajras al-Huriya editor Abdullah Shaikh and their attorneys that they would be charged under the 1991 criminal code but failed to inform them of the specific charges, local media reported. On May 29, prosecutors charged al-Gerai and Shaikh with defamation in a Khartoum court; the trial was adjourned till June 21, Sudanese human rights activists told CPJ. According to Osman Hummaida, the executive director of the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, seven separate complaints have been filed against Shaikh by the National Intelligence and Security Service, the military and other organs of the state.

Al-Gerai and Shaikh weren’t the only ones charged. Fayez al-Silaik, the former acting editor-in-chief of Ajras al-Huriya, also faces a defamation charge in connection with older articles about Ishag, Hummaida told CPJ. He has also been charged six other times in connection with different articles about prisoner abuse that have appeared in Ajras al-Huriya, Hummaida told CPJ. Al-Silaik’s court date has been set for June 12. Prosecutors have also charged Amal Habbani, who wrote about Ishag’s case in Ajras al-Huriya: she is al-Siliak’s codefendant in the June 12 trial.  Journalist Fatima al-Ghazali and her editor-in-chief at the daily Al-Jarida, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, will also stand trial for al-Ghazali’s articles about Ishag’s case on June 12, local media reported.

In addition, Faisal Saleh, who also wrote about Ishag’s case for the daily Al-Akhbar, has been charged with defamation. His trial commences on June 28.  Mohamed Latif, the daily’s editor-in-chief will stand trial as a co-defendant in the same legal proceeding.  Nahid al-Hassan, a physician who has frequently written about torture and other forms of abuse that occur while alleged perpetrators are in police custody in Ajras al-Huriya has also been charged, for writing about the case. She has been scheduled to appear in court to defend herself against undetermined charges on July 6.

Finally, Ahmad Osman, editor-in-chief of the English-language paper The Citizen, received a summons from the court clerk. He has not yet been given charges or a court date, however, Hummaida told CPJ. 

The charges against the 10 journalists are very much in keeping with how Sudan reacts to critical media, CPJ research shows.