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SUDAN: Opposition journalists sentenced to prison

July 15, 2010 | 11:05 am

Bashir photo A Sudanese court on Thursday sentenced three journalists from an opposition newspaper to prison on charges of spreading hatred against the country, spying, terrorism and false reporting.

The journalists work for Rai Alshab, the newspaper of the Popular Congress Party, headed by Hassan Turabi, the country’s leading Islamic opposition figure. Columnist Abuzar Alamin was sentenced five years in prison for criticizing President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir and describing the national elections in April as rigged. Ashraf Abdul-Aziz and Tahir Abujawhara were each sentenced to two years in jail on similar charges.

The newspaper had investigated allegations of electoral fraud -- a charge widely alleged by international human rights groups -- and printed photographs of juveniles voting in different parts of the country. The three journalists were arrested in May by security forces in Khartoum. They were reportedly tortured before they stood trial. 

The lawyer for the journalists, Abdulmoim Osman, said the defendants had asked for leniency, noting that Bashir had recently pardoned a rebel involved in an armed attack against the country.

"These journalists didn't take up arms," the lawyer said. "They simply used their pens."

More than 10 newspapers jointly agreed that they will not publish Friday in protest of the court's verdict and to press the government to lift censorship laws.

"We are not publishing to show solidarity with the detained journalists," said Osman Shinger, editor in chief of The Citizen.

Bashir's government has been criticized since the elections for clamping down on press freedoms. The government has grown sensitive about its image over the conflict in Darfur and the planned referendum in January that will decide whether the mainly Christian south will secede from the predominately Muslim north. 

"I stopped writing my column because they [security forces] daily censor it. I will not write unless they stop censorship," said Faiz Al-Siliek, acting editor-in-chief of Ajras Alhurriya newspapers. "There is no press freedom in Sudan."

-- Alsanosi Ahmed in Khartoum, Sudan

Photo: Sudan President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir. Credit: Reuters