Sudan

Motoon II: Another update

First the good news. Aleksandr Sdvizhkov, the editor in Belarus who was jailed for publishing the Muhammed cartoons back in 2006 has been released.

More than a 1,000 (mainly small and local) Danish websites were hacked by some individual calling himself United Arab Hackers and reportedly from Saudi Arabia. The websites of international companies based in Denmark, such as Lurpak and Carlsberg, were not affected.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is threatening to expel Danish organizations, snub its officials and boycott the countrys products in reaction to the republished cartoons. Denmarks foreign aid minister is considering whether this might have consequences for Danish aid (130.2 million kroner last year) to the African country.

Bahrainis took to the streets and the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe jumped on the bandwagon.

With thanks to Media Watch Watch (twice) and The Comics Reporter.

Updated

The Vatican and the Al-Azhar university in Cairo have issued a joint statement condeming (via) the republication of the cartoon but studiously avoiding any mention of the foiled murder plot against the 72-year-old cartoonist which prompted the republications.

Press under pressure in Sudan

Human Rights Watch (via) is reporting that the Sudanese government is engaged in an increasingly blatant effort to muzzle and intimidate the country’s independent press.

“While international media attention has been focused on Darfur, the Sudanese authorities in Khartoum have been stepping up their harassment of Sudanese journalists and newspapers,” said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The harassment is symptomatic of Khartoum’s fear of mounting popular dissent and frustration at government policies and actions.”

Since the beginning of 2006 at least 15 Sudanese and foreign journalists have been arrested and detained. And in recent months, government forces have stepped up their activities, carrying out numerous acts of censorship, arrests of journalists, and arbitrary inspections of newspaper offices and printing presses. In some instances editions of newspapers have been banned altogether.

In September, newspaper editors were warned not to cover the violent police actions against anti-government demonstrations which took place in Khartoum on August 30 and September 6 following the announcement of price increases for fuel, sugar and other basic goods.

The government also imposed a ban on reporting or comment on the case of Mohamed Taha Mohamed Ahmed, the editor of the Islamist al-Wifaq newspaper, whose decapitated body was found on September 6, a day after he was abducted by a group of armed men from his home in Khartoum.

In addition Sudanese security services have routinely restricted the international and Sudanese media’s coverage of the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Even once they have obtained visas for Sudan, international media face increasing restrictions on their travel to Darfur and their ability to move freely and interview individuals in the region.

“The government’s strategy of intimidating journalists in Khartoum has had some effect,” said Takirambudde. “The Sudanese media, especially Arabic newspapers, toe the government line on key issues such as Darfur. And the human rights violations being carried out by the security forces in the region are not being reported.”

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Sudanese press silenced over murder

Following the murder of the chief editor of the Sudanese independent daily, Al-Wifaq, the government of Sudan has resumed the practice of pre-print censorship of the national press.

According to the Sudan Organisation Against Torture (SOAT), pre-print censorship has resumed in Sudan despite constitutional guarantees for the respect of freedom of expression and the media. Over the past week, teams of security officers had reportedly toured print and newsrooms in Khartoum to issue warnings and conduct pre-print inspections of newspapers in order to censor media coverage of recent events.

The human rights group also reports that editors have been warned to refrain from publicising or discussing the abduction and murder of Mohamed Taha Mohamed Ahmed.

Butchered for blasphemy

The chief editor of the Sudanese independent daily, Al-Wifaq has been found dead a day after being abducted by unknown gunmen on Tuesday.

Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed was abducted from his home in the east of Khartoum and his body was discovered in another part of the city on Wednesday, according to an Interior Ministry official who was speaking anonymously as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Police Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nagib al-Tayeb said that several suspects were arrested for alleged involvement in the crime that he described as alien to the Sudanese traditions and ethics. He did not give additional details about those taken into custody or the circumstances of the arrests.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Mohamed Taha had been decapitated and his body had been found n Kalakala district about 25 kms south of the capital.

Taha was convicted of blasphemy in 2005, on the basis of a complaint by a fundamentalist group, Ansar al-Sunnah. The article that offended them related to a more than five-centuries-old Islamic manuscript entitled “the unknown in the life of the prophet” and which cast doubt on the prophet’s ancestry.

How religious tolerance works

From The Melon Farmers:

A Khartoum court on Saturday suspended a newspaper for three months for publishing an article last month considered by Muslims to be blasphemous, the official Sudan News Agency reported.

The Al-Wifaq daily was also fined 8,000,000 Sudanese pounds (about $3,200) for the outcry it prompted in this conservative African Muslim nation when it republished an article from the Internet that questioned the parentage of Islams Prophet Muhammad.

Editor Mohamed Taha Mohamed Ahmed apologized in a letter to the press, saying he did not intend to insult the prophet. The article angered Muslims of different sects, some showed customary tolerance and demanded Ahmeds execution. Ahmed himself was cleared of blasphemy charges, but he remains in detention for violating a previous three day suspension order and ignoring another ruling banning the media from writing about the case.

The government had held the trial behind closed doors and banned media coverage. Some observers said the verdict was lenient in Sudan, where blasphemy and insulting Islam can invoke the death penalty. The government has ruled by Islamic Sharia law since 1983.

SUNA reported that the plaintiffs who spearheaded the campaign against Ahmed, a group representing not so tolerant Muslim scholars, said they would appeal the verdict.