New York, October 23, 2017–Sudanese authorities should immediately release al-Tayar Editor-in-Chief Osman Mirgani from prison and drop all charges against him and al-Tayar columnist Mohamed Zine al-Abidine, the Committee to Protect journalists said today.
A Sudanese criminal court today sentenced Mirgani to six months in jail for “violating the journalism code of ethics” and threatening public order for publishing an article in the privately owned daily al-Tayar that accused Sudan’s first family of corruption, according to news reports.
According to the reports, the court also sentenced Zine al-Abidine, the journalist who wrote the article, to a three-year suspended sentence on the same charges.
The court ordered Mirgani to pay a fine of 10,000 Sudanese pounds (US$1,428) or go to prison for six months. According to Agence France-Presse, Migrani refused to pay the fine in protest. Authorities are holding the editor at al-Huda prison in the city of Omdurman, according to reports from local journalists, which an al-Tayar statement confirmed.
The journalists’ lawyer, Abbas Ibrahim Ahmed, said the journalists plan to appeal, according to the local newspaper Sudan Tribune.
“Sudanese authorities are trying to silence critical journalists by harassing them and sending them to criminal court just for doing their jobs,” CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington D.C. “We call on the authorities to release Osman Mirgani immediately and not to contest his appeal or that of Mohamed Zine al-Abidine.”
Al-Tayar did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via social media.
The Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) originally filed charges against Mirgani and Zine al-Abidine following the publication of a column in al-Tayar on February 23, 2012, in which Zine al-Abidine discussed the family of President Omar al-Bashir’s alleged involvement in corruption, according to news reports.
After the article’s publication, the NISS also confiscated all copies of the al-Tayar‘s issue from February 23, 2012, but local newspapers and blogs republished the column in solidarity with al-Tayar, local media reported at the time.
NISS did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email requesting comment.
Sudan’s intelligence and security services banned al-Tayar “indefinitely” in June 2012, local media reported, but the Sudanese Supreme Court intervened, allowing al-Tayar to resume publishing in March 2014, according to news reports.
According to CPJ research, the NISS has repeatedly confiscated the newspaper and filed multiple lawsuits against its journalists.
In 2015, CPJ documented how Sudanese authorities confiscated editions of Al-Tayar along with 13 other newspapers, without providing an explanation.
In recent years, the country’s security service has confiscated entire print editions on days when a paper publishes content of which it disapproves as a way to censor the news and force publications to incur significant financial losses.