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Sudan Tries To Stifle Journalists Critical Of Nation’s Justice System

Call To Drop Charges

The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have separately called on Sudan to drop charges against at least 10 journalists who have reported on the alleged rape and torture of a 25-year-old art graduate. The Committee to Protect Journalists also called on Sudan to abandon all other tactics of harassment against these journalists. Why should the Sudanese government be so sensitive to reports of what this young woman went through? For a start, she is a pro-democracy activist. Secondly, the rape and torture were carried out by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

The Case Of Safiya Ishag

Safiya (or Safia) Ishag’s “crime” was to be associated with pro-democracy group Girifna and to have attended some rallies in January this year, where she was seen handing out flyers. A week or two later, on her way back from a bookstore, she was pounced upon by the security services, who brought her to a building where she was beaten, thrown to the ground, and brutally raped before being released with the warning that if she were caught again things could be worse. She went public with her story in a video that she uploaded on the internet.

The Charges Against The Journalists

Among the journalists charged for reporting the rape is Omar-al Gerai, who wrote a piece titled “Rape…Under Sharia Law”. Not only did he delve into Safiya Ishag’s case, but he also looked critically at the Sudanese justice system and the tens of thousands of detainees who have been subjected to it. Charged along with him was Abdullah Sheikh (or Shaikh), editor of Ajras al-Huriya, the paper that published Omar-al Gerai’s article in March. They were not told what the charge was until they were in court last month, when they found out that they were being charged with defamation. The trial has been adjourned till June 21.

The Problem With Sudan

As the Committee to Protect Journalists sees it, “Rather than address the systematic failures that enable torture and rape, the Sudanese government has chosen to subject journalists who cover them to politicized legal proceedings. The problem is rape and torture in government custody, and a political culture that tolerates such acts”.

To the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies the charges “seem motivated by a desire to prevent pubic discussion of NISS conduct rather than a desire to protect the reputation of individual security agents”.

Think About It

Why is rape such a common weapon of political violence? Do the perpetrators think that it might silence their victims and act as a warning to other activists to tone down their activities? Would Sudan heed the calls by the two organizations to drop the charges against the journalists?