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Sudan3 January 2006

Columnist spends weekend in prison for criticising president

Reporters Without Borders today said it was astounded by the arrest of Al-Sahafa columnist Zuhair Al-Sarraj for two and a half days for writing that the president appeared indifferent to the problems of Sudan’s citizens.

“It seems the lifting of censorship in July has not meant the end of police monitoring of the press,” the organisation said. “It is not a crime to urge the president to show some concern. The authorities went to great lengths to ensure that Al-Sarraj spent the weekend in prison. They should drop all the charges against him and his editor so that the scandalous arrest is not compounded by an arbitrary trial.”

Al-Sarraj received a phone call from the media and press department of the national security forces on the evening 30 December ordering him to report to the Amarat district police station in Khartoum. After being interrogated there for an hour, he was transferred to police headquarters and questioned for another four hours.

He was then put in Kober prison and was not taken before the Khartoum prosecutor until noon yesterday, when Al-Sahafa editor Adil Albaz was also brought before the prosecutor. The two were then interrogated for five hours. The prosecutor finally freed them on bail after notifying them that they would be prosecuted for “insulting the president.”

Al-Sarraj wrote on 30 December that Sudanese citizens had addressed complaints to President Omar Al-Beshir but it seemed as though “the person addressed is not alive.”

Journalists and others have formed a committee to support Al-Sarraj and Albaz. Its members include Ghazi Suleiman, a lawyer and parliamentary representative of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, a former rebel group. The committee’s secretariat consists of seven leading Khartoum-based journalists, including Reporters Without Borders correspondent Faisal El-Bagir.

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