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Sudanese tabloid suspended for ‘false news’ about gay demo

August 21 - 2021 KHARTOUM
El Dar newspaper with main headline 'Gays demonstrate, demanding removal of Art 148, August 16 (Social media)
El Dar newspaper with main headline 'Gays demonstrate, demanding removal of Art 148, August 16 (Social media)

Sudan’s National Council for Press and Publications on Tuesday decided to suspend El Dar newspaper for three days for publishing false news about a demonstration in Khartoum in which homosexuals called for the abolition of Article 148 of the 1991 Criminal Code.

The main header of El Dar daily, a popular tabloid in the country, on Monday read “Gays demonstrate, demanding the abolition of Article 148*”.

The press council, a governmental body, said in its decision that the measures were taken in accordance with the articles of the 2009 Press and Publications Law and the 2013 Regulations for the Development of Press Work, and that the newspaper has the right to defend itself before the penalty will be implemented.

The newspaper in particular violated Art. 26 of the 2009 Press Law by “not exercising honesty and integrity in performing the profession of journalism”. According to the press council, “the news article completely lacked the foundations and criteria for news, and also contained contradictions, as it referred to a demonstration of homosexuals, yet also mentioned their intention to stage a protest, and it indicated that they did not receive an official approval for the demonstration.”

The penalty includes an apology published by the newspaper and the suspension of publications for a period of three days.

Husameldin Haidar, Secretary-General of the National Council for Press and Publications, denied that the decision concerning the publication of false news is related to other accusations the newspaper is currently facing. El Dar daily reportedly belongs to the pro-Al Bashir regime media outlets that aim to distort the situation in the country.

Press sources said that the news on the demonstration published by El Dar may have been taken over from social media sites, “while journalists are supposed to resort to professionalism and not rely on the content of social networks”.

They also said that “the Muslim Brotherhood is still active in the media and social media sites, publishing false news.

‘Sodomy law’ amended

On July 9 last year, Sudan’s Sovereignty Council approved new laws and passed a number of amendments to the existing ones**, including articles 145-158 of the 1991 Criminal Law that deal with “morality”, and include consensual sex, dress code, and other matters on the conduct of individuals in private spaces. As for Art. 148, the death penalty was removed, as well as flogging. Imprisonment was increased to a maximum of seven years.

Fabo Elbaradei, an LGBTQ+ activist based in Khartoum, welcomed the surprise move to lift the death penalty but said it would not change life much for gay people in Sudan. “We are subjected to social discrimination and we face a prison sentence ... for simply being who we are,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments. “We are still deprived of our right to live like any other members of society.”

Ola Diab, a Sudanese journalist based in Qatar, confirmed the situation in an interview with Radio Dabanga in early January, and spoke about a “still significant resistance in Sudan – politically, socially and religiously.”

* Before the amendments, Art. 148 of the 1991 Criminal Code read: There shall be deemed to commit sodomy, everyman who penetrates his glans or the equivalent thereof, in the anus of a woman or another man’s or permits another man to penetrate his glans or its equivalent in his anus.
(a) Whoever commits the offence of sodomy, shall be punished, with shipping a hundred lashes, and he may also be punished, with imprisonment, for a term, not exceeding five years; (b) Where the offender is convicted for the second time he shall be punished with whipping a hundred lashes, and with imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years (c) Where the offender is convicted for the third time, he shall be punished with death, or with life imprisonment.)

** Other amendments to the the 1991 Criminal Law included the cancellation of a penalty for apostasy, crimes of freedom of belief and thought, the practice of repentance for apostates, the authority of the national security apparatus to summon and inspection, and the death penalty against children and persons over the age of 70. Female Genital Mutilation was criminalised and the women’s right to accompany their children while traveling outside Sudan without requiring the permission of their fathers was recognised.

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