Sudanese journalist jailed for writing against alleged rape case
June 6, 2011 (KHARTOUM) – A female Sudanese journalist has been prosecuted and convicted of libel charges on account of a commentary she wrote against the alleged rape of a female activist by state security agents, in the latest case of using legal proceedings to intimidate individual journalists.
|Fatima Ghazali, a journalist working for the privately owned Arabic daily Al-Jaridah, appeared on Tuesday before the Khartoum North Criminal Court along with her editor-in-cheif Aldeen Ibrahim amid heavy presence of security men and anti-riot police to face charges filed against her by the country’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).
The charges stem from a commentary in which Ghazali addressed the case of Safia Ishaq, a young female activist who appeared in a Youtube video in February and claimed she was abducted and gang-raped by three plainclothed NISS agents after she participated in anti-government protests against the government.
In her commentary, Ghazali praised Ishaq’s courage and fulminated against the impunity enjoyed by security agents, saying it allowed them to commit sexual crimes against women in the region of Darfur and elsewhere without fears of prosecution.
Members of Sudan’s powerful NISS are protected under the country’s National Security Acts which gives them almost unlimited powers to arrest and detain those deemed as threats to the country’s security.
Ghazali and her boss were found guilty of “publishing false news” under Article 66 of the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Code and Articles 66 – 68 of the 2009 Press and Publications Act. She was subsequently sentenced to pay a fine of 2,000 pounds (roughly 670 US dollars) or go to prison if she refused to pay up. Ghazali refused to pay the fine and was seen transferred to Omdurman Women’s Prison. The editor-in-chief, Ibrahim, was sentenced to a fine of 5,000 Sudanese pounds (roughly 1670 US dollars).
In response, the New York-based press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders lamented “the disgraceful way the authorities are harassing and prosecuting journalists in Khartoum and the north of the country in an attempt to silence them and stop embarrassing revelations about human rights violation by the security forces.”
“While the international community and media have their attention turned to South Sudan’s future independence and the fighting in Abyei and South Kurdufan, the human rights and media freedom situation continues to be very worrying in the north,” RWB said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Despite a great deal of prior censorship, the government and security forces now want to force journalists to censor themselves. The recent arrests of journalists and the prosecutions initiated against them are likely to dissuade the media from covering crimes by the security forces. Since the start of this year, any criticism of the security forces has been liable to lead to court proceedings.”
Several other journalists have received summonses to appear in court against the background of writing articles condemning the alleged rape of Ishaq. Those include Faisal Mohamed Saliah, the prominent columnist of Al-Akhbar daily newspaper.
Another journalist of Al-Jaridah, Amal Habani, is due to appear in court on 30 June to face similar charges pertaining to an article in which she also criticized security forces on Ishaq case.
Last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based advocacy group, said that Sudanese authorities continue to “aggressively” target individual journalists and publications through “contrived legal proceedings, politicized criminal charges, and confiscations.”
Results published as part of UNESCO 2011 World Press Freedom Day, Sudan ranks as 40 out of 48 in Sub-Saharan Africa for press freedom. Amnesty International described Sudan as a place where “freedom of speech is being so openly violated.