Reporters Without Borders today hailed the news that Slovenian photographer and human rights activist Tomo Kriznar was given a presidential pardon on 2 September but the organisation stressed the need to obtain the release of three other foreign media workers still being held in Sudan’s western Dafur region.
Kriznar was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of spying and publishing false information on 14 August after entering Sudan without a visa. He had been held in Shala prison in Al-Fashir, the capital of North Dafur, since 20 July.
“Kriznar’s release from prison is good news, but the imperative now is to obtain the release of Paul Salopek and his two assistants, who are being held in the same city for the same reasons, and to force the Sudanese government to keep its promises to respect press freedom and the right to be informed,” Reporters Without Borders said.
The presidential pardon came after negotiations between the Sudanese government and Hamdija Blekic, a special envoy of the Slovenian president. Kriznar had himself also been acting as a special adviser to his country’s president.
A correspondent of the Chicago Tribune daily newspaper, Salopek has been held in Al Fashir since 6 August along with his driver, Suleiman Abakar Moussa and his interpreter, Abdulraman Anu, who are both Chadians. They are also charged with spying and entering Sudan illegally and their trial has been set for 10 September.
14.08.2006 - Photographer and activist Tomo Kriznar gets two years in prison on spying charge
Reporters Without Borders called today for the release of Slovenian writer and activist Tomo Kriznar after he was sentenced on 14 August by a court in Al Fashir, the capital of the western state of North Darfur, to two years in prison on charges of spying and publishing false information. Kriznar, who was acting as a special envoy of his country’s president, was arrested in Darfur on 19 July.
“We condemn this outrageous manoeuvre by the Sudanese government, which is clearly aimed at discouraging journalists and humanitarian activists from investigating the large-scale massacres that have been taking place in Darfur for the past three years,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Kriznar used his position as a writer, photographer and human rights activist to denounce this major humanitarian crisis,” the organisation added. “The government cannot negotiate with rebel groups under Slovenia’s aegis and at the same time jail a Slovenian representative under an absurd pretext.”
The official news agency Suna quoted justice minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardhi as saying Kriznar was convicted of “spying” and “publishing false news” under articles 53 and 66 of the 1991 criminal law, and of “entering Sudan without a visa” under article 10 of the 1994 Passports, Migration and Nationality Act.
As well as a two-year prison term, the court imposed a fine of 500,000 dinars (1,934 euros) that would become an additional six-month prison term in the event of non-payment. His still cameras, his movie camera, his telephones and his laptop were confiscated. The court also stipulated that he would be expelled from Sudan on completing his prison sentence.
One of his lawyers, Mohamed Mahjoub, the former dean of the North Dafur bar association, said an appeal would be filed within two days. His other lawyer told Reporters Without Borders the requirements of due process were not respected. “We were not given enough time to defend our client,” he said.
Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek has written to Sudanese President Omar Al Bechir asking him to pardon his special envoy. The sentence was “absolutely too harsh” for a minor consular offence, he said.
During a hearing on 1 August, Kriznar admitted entering Sudan without a visa from Chad. He said he did this on the invitation of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM). But he denied the spying charge. His request for a visa was refused by the Sudanese embassy in Vienna because of his “negative” articles, the Sudanese foreign ministry said. He had written several articles about the situation in Darfur for Slovenian newspapers and his website www.tomokriznar.com.
Both the Slovenian authorities and the African Union mission in Al Fashir had called for his release immediately after his arrest on 19 July.
In February, Slovenia’s president proposed a plan for resolving the crisis in Darfur and the dispatch of a special mission led by Kriznar. Slovenia also participated in the talks between the government and rebels which were held in Abuja in May and which resulted in the SLM joining the government.
More than 200,000 people have died in the fighting in Darfur since 2003, and more than 2 million have been displaced.