Sudan mounts contrived legal cases against journalists

New York, June 29, 2011The Sudanese government continues to aggressively target individual journalists and publications through contrived legal proceedings, politicized criminal charges, and confiscations, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Prison authorities informed Abu Zir al-Amin, deputy editor of the now-defunct opposition daily Rai al-Shaab, that he would not be freed on July 3 as scheduled but instead transferred to the custody of State Security Prosecution for further investigation, family members and colleagues told CPJ. Al-Amin has been in prison since May 2010 and is due to complete his sentence on July 3.

Al-Amin was charged in May 2010, along with other colleagues who have since been released,       with “undermining the constitution,” “terrorism and espionage,” “publishing false news,” “undermining the prestige of the state,” and “inciting sedition” in what CPJ at the time described as a politicized trial. He was sentenced to five years in prison, which was reduced to a one-year prison term by an appeals court earlier this year.    

Prison officials informed al-Amin, family members told CPJ, that State Security Prosecution would be investigating two complaints that have been lodged against him. The first is in relation to an article predating al-Amin’s imprisonment in May 2010 for which he was being accused of the same charges on which he has already been convicted. The charges stem from the penal code, the anti-terrorism law, and the press and publications law, and could potentially carry the death sentence. The second complaint against al-Amin was lodged by a security officer who, according to the journalist, had tortured him during his pre-trial detention in May 2010. The officer claims that al-Amin inflicted “grievous bodily harm” upon him. Al-Amin’s family members counter that the journalist was merely defending himself.

“We are profoundly disturbed by the audacity and spurious nature of the charges leveled against Abu Zir al-Amin,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “We call on the Sudanese government to release al-Amin by July 3 at the latest and to desist from harassing him and any other critical journalists through the judicial system or through other means.” 

Al-Amin is not the only journalist facing fabricated criminal charges. Jaafar al-Subki Ibrahim, a reporter for the private daily Al-Sahafa, has been held incommunicado and without charge since November 2010. In early June, Ibrahim was accused of “undermining the constitutional system,” a charge that carries stiff prison terms and possible execution. His trial has been adjourned until July 12, local journalists said. 

Officers from Sudan’s intelligence apparatus prevented printing house staff from giving the June 21 issue of Ajras al-Huriya to distributors, the pro-opposition daily announced on its website. Officials provided no reasons or rationale for the confiscation, the statement said. The confiscation marks the fourth such instance against Ajras al-Huriya in three months, with two incidents in April and another in early June; dozens of similar confiscations have taken place in Sudan in recent years, CPJ research shows.  

In early June, CPJ documented the cases of 10 journalists who were facing politicized criminal charges that carry long prison sentences, after they covered the alleged rape and torture of a youth activist. The cases of all 10 journalists are still pending with most cases having been adjourned until July, CPJ research shows.