Reporters Without Borders today called for the lifting of a ban on the Arabic-language daily al-Sudani, under a highly controversial article of criminal code procedure, over an editorial accusing the justice minister of “lying in a money-laundering case”.
The worldwide press freedom organisation however welcomed the release of the publisher and editor of the privately-owned paper, Mahgub Erwa and Osman Mirghani, who had been imprisoned on 17 May 2007 and were respectively released on 19 and 20 May.
“This case typifies one of the most glaring obstacles to press freedom in Sudan,” the organisation said. “The banning of al-Sudani is unwarranted in that it was decided unilaterally by the government, while there is a press regulation body whose authority was by-passed.”
“Yet again the government based its decision on Article 130 of the criminal code procedure when the entire profession and the National Press Council have all challenged its validity.”
Mahgoub Erwa was freed on 19 May, 24 hours before the end of his preventive detention period. Osman Mirghani, was released on 20 May on the orders of a court which refused to extend his detention, as requested by the public ministry. A journalist on the paper, Hafiz Al-Khair, was questioned about the case on 17 and 19 May.
The misuse of Article 130, which punishes any breach of the confidentiality of investigations, is one of the authorities’ favourite weapons. Since the start of 2007, al-Sudani has fallen victim to this ambiguous piece of legislation which is supposed to prevent “influence being brought to bear on an on-going investigation”. The justice ministry on 1st February banned the paper “indefinitely” for referring to the 2006 murder of the editor of the daily al-Wifaq, Mohammed Taha, in defiance of a government imposed blackout on the case on the pretext of “preserving public order”. Protests from professional organisations - and from the National Press Council, close to the government, which questioned the legality of the decision - resulted in a climb-down by the authorities 48 hours later.
18.05.2007 - Independent daily closed down, two journalists arrested
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the closure of the independent Arabic-language daily Al-Sudani on 16 May as a result of a complaint by the justice minister about an article accusing him of lying.
“Closing a newspaper is a violation of democratic freedoms,” the press freedom organisation said. “President Omar Al-Bashir solemnly undertook to support democratisation in Sudan in a speech to several African presidents, the UN secretary-general, and US and European officials in July 2005. The authorities should respect that undertaking and guarantee press freedom in Sudan.”
Officials went to the premises of Al-Sudani on 16 May, confiscated the plates of the next day’s issue as it was about to be printed, and handed over a letter from the prosecutor’s office ordering the newspaper’s closure because of a column by Osman Mirghani in that day’s issue accusing justice minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardhi of “lying about a money-laundering case” before the courts.
Al-Sudani will remain closed until the courts reach their verdict on the minister’s libel complaint. Mirghani and editor Mahgoub Orwa have been arrested under three-day, renewable detention orders.