- A prominent independent journalist has been forced to flee Sudan in the face of persecution by the Sudanese government. Arriving abroad, the ex-editor of the shuttered newspaper 'Khartoum Monitor' has received a grant for writers at risk from human rights groups and is now planning to start a newspaper in rebel-held South Sudan.
Nhial Bol, former managing editor and reporter at the 'Khartoum Monitor', Sudan's only daily English-language newspaper, fled Sudan to Kenya in late October following repeated government actions against the 'Monitor', and arrests and threats against his life, the US group Human Rights Watch today reported.
The 'Monitor' was shut down several times this year by the Sudanese government, most recently in September. Only on 16 October, the reappearance of the newspaper was authorised by Khartoum authorities. The 'Monitor then had been shut down more or less continuously since 12 July after printing criticism of the government that allegedly violated the criminal code.
After his escape to Kenya, on 1 November, Mr Bol received an emergency grant from the Hellman/Hammett fund for persecuted writers, which is administered by Human Rights Watch. Last year the 'Monitor' had also received one of the annual Hellman/Hammett grants after continual closings by security forces and spurious court proceedings by the Sudanese government threatened the newspaper's existence.
Mr Bol told the group he now intends to move to southern Sudan and start a newspaper in the territories held by the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). Ongoing peace negotiations to end the 20-year civil war between the SPLM/A and the government should be finalized by the end of the year. Under the peace agreement, a regional government will be formed in the south, with the SPLM/A as the dominant party.
- As a rebel group, the SPLM/A has had no track record of handling an independent press, because the rebel area lacks suitable communications and infrastructure, the US human rights group noted. "As it becomes a key player in the regional government, however, its performance will be watched closely," it added. Currently, only one newspaper, sponsored by the US government, exists in the SPLA/M held territory.
- An independent press will have a critical role to play in the future of Sudan, both in the south as well as the north, said Jemera Rone of Human Rights Watch in a statement today. "The international community needs to support Nhial Bol and other journalists like him so that they can continue to shine a light on human rights abuses."
Mr Bol was managing editor of the 'Monitor' since its founding in 2000. The only English-language daily in the country, the newspaper served Khartoum's large southern Sudanese population and reported on matters related to peace and dialogue between northern and southern Sudan.
The newspaper's articles on the peace process between the government and the rebel SPLM/A, human rights abuses by security forces, slavery, and the treatment of southern Sudanese aroused the ire of the Khartoum government, which subjected the 'Monitor' and the rest of Sudan's independent newspapers to censorship, intimidation and confiscation. Mr Bol was arrested on dozens of occasions by government security forces.
After the government-controlled National Press Council in February instructed newspapers not to report on the peace process, there was a new wave of crackdowns against the independent press. 'Khartoum Monitor' reporter Edward Tersu Lado was arrested and detained for 10 days in March, and a Khartoum criminal court in May shut down the Monitor for two months.
In June, the Court of Crimes Against the State, a Sudanese security court, revoked the Monitor's publishing license permanently, found Mr Bol and reporter William Ezekiel guilty of crimes against the state, and fined the newspaper 400,000 Sudanese dinars (US$ 1,554). After being allowed to reopen on 13 September, the newspaper was ordered shut down again two days later.
Each year, Human Rights Watch presents Hellman/Hammett grants to writers around the world who have been targets of political persecution. The grant program began in 1989 when executors of the estate of Lillian Hellman asked the human rights group to design a programme in her name and that of her long-time companion, novelist Dashiell Hammett, to provide assistance to writers in financial need as a result of expressing their views.
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