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Sudan29 November 2007

Al-Sudani editors freed after getting fine reduced

Mahjoub Ourwa, the chairman of the independent Arabic-language daily Al-Sudani, and Noureddine Medani, the newspaper’s editor, were released today after spending 11 days in Omdurman prison, north of Khartoum.

The two journalists had been detained on 18 November for refusing to pay court-ordered fines of 10,000 Sudanese pounds (3,500 euros) each for allegedly libelling the national intelligence service in a report about the arrests of four journalists.

“We decided not to pay the fines in order to send a message to the government that imprisonment for your views is not right,” Ourwa told Reuters. After they filed an appeal, the fine was reduced to 7,150 Sudanese pounds (2,500 euros) in total, which they agreed to pay.

20.11 - Two newspaper editors detained for refusing pay fine

Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrests on 18 November of Mahjoub Ourwa, the publisher and chief editor of the independent, Arabic-language daily Al-Sudani, and Noureddine Madani, the newspaper’s deputy editor, for refusing to pay a court-ordered fine for allegedly libelling the national intelligence service in a column about the arrests of four journalists.

“Imprisoning journalists for defaming the intelligence services is unfair and disproportionate, and does not redress the alleged wrong,” the press freedom organisation said. “In a democracy, a media regulatory body should be in charge of supervising the press, not the criminal justice system. These journalists, who were just doing their job, are subject to archaic laws whose overhaul is long overdue. The severity of the punishment is not only incomprehensible but also contrary to international standards on press freedom.”

A Khartoum court sentenced Ourwa and Madani on 17 November to a fine of 10,000 Sudanese pounds (3,500 euros) each or two months in prison in a libel suit brought by the national intelligence service over a column by Madani on 20 July about the arrests of four journalists (one of them employed by Al-Sudani).

The four journalists were arrested while trying to cover protests in the northern Kajbar region against the construction of a dam. Four people were killed in clashes between police and local residents during the demonstrations.

After Ourwa and Madani filed an appeal and refused the pay the fine, they were arrested and taken to Khartoum’s Omdurman prison “to allow them to reconsider the matter.” As appeals are not usually handled very quickly, they could remain there for at least a week. On 18 November, Al-Sudani’s lawyers requested suspension of the sentence until the outcome of the appeal.

In May, Al-Sudani was temporarily closed by the government and Ourwa was jailed for three days as a result of a complaint by the justice minster.

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