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Two Sudanese newspaper editors face death penalty

December 22 - 2015 KHARTOUM
Osman Mirghani, editor-in-chief of El Tayar daily newspaper (file photo)
Osman Mirghani, editor-in-chief of El Tayar daily newspaper (file photo)

Two prominent Sudanese editors-in-chief are facing the death penalty over claims that they introduced anti-government editorial policies at their newspapers.

El Tayar editor Osman Mirghani and El Sayha editor Ahmed Yousef El Tai were detained by officers of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) at their offices last week.

They were questioned for hours about articles that the prosecution said “would incite against the government and undermine the constitutional order”, and released by the state security prosecutor on personal bail. They face sentencing this week.

El Tayar’s print-run was confiscated early on 14 December. The following day, a NISS officer informed Mirghani by telephone that the newspaper was suspended indefinitely. Reasons would be given ‘later’.

The editor-in-chief told Radio Dabanga that he did not rule out that the suspension of the newspaper was triggered by his editorials in which he sharply criticised the Finance Minister’s proposal to lift subsidies on basis commodities next year.

Scapegoat

In an article in The Guardian on Monday, Mirghani says that his publication has been made a scapegoat for widespread criticism of the government.

“We were held by security officers and taken with cars from our offices, and they accused us of inciting people against the regime,” he said. “I think the president is very angry about our media coverage of next year’s budget, and our criticism of the finance minister. So our newspaper is the scapegoat.”

Mirghani and El Tai are being charged under two articles of the Criminal Code.

According to Feisal Mohamed Salih, a journalist and human rights activist, the Code is in conflict with the Constitution, which guarantees the right to “freedom of speech”. [..]

“The government is facing a genuine challenge this time, and we will see whether they will respect their own laws and Constitution, or not,” Salih said. “All over the world, the media shapes public opinion. Only in Sudan, when the newspapers disclose corruption or anything against the government, they get very angry.” 

Sudan ranks 174th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 press freedom index.

NISS measures based ‘on the law’

In an interview with El Sudani newspaper on Sunday, NISS director Mohamed Atta El Moula said that the measures taken against the Sudanese press are not “arbitrary” but based upon the law. Therefore, he noted, they are forced to take those measures.

He accused the Sudanese press of using sensationalism and exaggeration to attract readers, citing newspapers reports on child abuse incidents in school buses.

Last May, the NISS seized copies of ten newspapers and suspended four of them indefinitely in reaction to reports published by those newspapers on incidents of sexual harassment and child rape taking place on school buses.

“Sometimes we are forced to take an action against a major violation [by the newspapers] but strangely, when we suspended ten newspapers for one day for reporting the child abuse incidents, the issue was not directed against the NISS or its personnel but rather against the whole [Sudanese] society,” the security chief said.

(The Guardian, Sudan Tribune)


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