Reporters sans frontières (RSF) has called for the immediate release of Islam Salih, the Qatar-based television news network Al-Jazeera's Khartoum bureau chief. On 10 April 2004, Salih was convicted of "disseminating false news" and sentenced to one month in prison and a one million Sudanese pound (approx.US$3,800; 3,200 euros at the official rate) fine. He faces another month in prison if he does not pay the fine. The organisation also urged the Sudanese authorities to lift their news blackout on the tragic situation in the Darfur region, which is the underlying reason for Salih's arrest and imprisonment.
IFEX - News from the international freedom of expression community
ALERT - SUDAN
13 April 2004
Al-Jazeera bureau chief receives prison sentence; news blackout on events in
SOURCE: Reporters sans frontières (RSF), Paris
(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has called for the immediate release of Islam Salih, the
Qatar-based television news network Al-Jazeera's Khartoum bureau chief. On
10 April 2004, Salih was convicted of "disseminating false news" and
sentenced to one month in prison and a one million Sudanese pound (approx.
US$3,800; 3,200 euros at the official rate) fine. He faces another month in
prison if he does not pay the fine.
The organisation also urged the Sudanese authorities to lift their news
blackout on the tragic situation in the Darfur region, which is the
underlying reason for Salih's arrest and imprisonment. "His imprisonment is
just one more example of the intolerable policy practiced by the Sudanese
authorities, especially the security services, who are trying to cover up
the horrors committed against the civilian population in Darfur by
government forces and the armed Arab militia," RSF said.
The organisation described the news blackout imposed on the press as
"criminal" and said it had aggravated the crisis. "We have lost count of the
number of newspapers that have been closed and journalists detained over the
past year for trying to challenge the blackout," RSF said. "We urge the
government to release Salih and allow all journalists to work freely so that
the Sudanese people and the rest of the world can be told about the
situation in the Darfur region," the organisation added.
Salih and an Al-Jazeera cameraman were previously detained on 18 December
2003. A day earlier, the Qatar-based station's Khartoum offices were
searched by the security services, who did not have a warrant (see IFEX
alert of 19 December 2003). The authorities claimed that customs duties had
not been paid on material brought into the country. Salih produced evidence
proving duties had, in fact, been paid. Nevertheless, Al-Jazeera's bureau
was closed. A few days earlier, members of the security forces had
threatened Al-Jazeera with reprisals if the station did not change the tone
of its coverage of Sudanese affairs. The authorities were angered by a
report about events in the Darfur region and accused the network of
"disseminating false news".
On 10 April 2004, when convicting Salih, the Khartoum court referred to
Article 66 of the 1991 Criminal Code, concerning the dissemination of false
news, and Article 199 of the Customs Authority Act. Salih, who appealed his
sentence, was immediately taken to Omdurman prison.
Since February 2003, the fighting pitting the Sudanese army and
government-backed Arab militias against rebels in the Darfur region has
reportedly left 10,000 dead and 670,000 internally displaced persons.
Furthermore, 100,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Chad.
The authorities have sought to censor news of the atrocities committed by
the Janjaweed - armed Arab militia on horses and camels - against members of
the Fur African community, which includes the Masalit, Dajo, Tunjur, Tama
and Zaghawas tribes. Human Rights Watch has described the unfolding
situation as a "crime against humanity" while the World Organisation Against
Torture has voiced concern about the "spectre of a new genocide."
For further information, contact Agnès Devictor at RSF, 5, rue Geoffroy
Marie, Paris 75009, France, tel: +33 1 44 83 84 84, fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51,
e-mail: [email protected], Internet: http://www.rsf.org
The information contained in this alert is the sole responsibility of RSF.
In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit RSF.
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