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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Sudan releases Al Jazeera bureau chief following global pressure


Sudanese soldiers had arrestedAl El Musalmi El Kabbashi on Sunday in what was seen as a further attack on freedom by the military junta. 

Authorities in Sudan released on Tuesday Al Jazeera’s bureau chief El Musalmi El Kabbashi, two days after security forces raided his home and arrested him. 

The Sudanese military has yet to justify the arrest. 

On Monday, authorities transferred El Musalmi to “Soba” prison near Khartoum despite the Prosecutor General’s office issuing a decision to release him earlier that day. 

The Qatar-based media network has been one of the only international networks able to report out of Sudan, and even interviewed army General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, who executed the coup, earlier this month.

“El Kabbashi’s arrest is not the first time Sudanese authorities have singled out Al Jazeera,” the network said in a statement. 

The network’s office was shut down by Sudanese authorities in 2019 amid mass protests which saw the overthrow of former President Omar Al-Bashir. 

The Public Prosecution Office for Crimes Against the State in Sudan had interrogated Al-Kabashi regarding the Qatari channel’s coverage of events in the country.

The Sudanese Journalists’s Union, which has previously come under attack from the overthrown transitional government, condemned the arrest of Al-Kabbashi and called on local authorities to release him or bring him to a quick trial.

The union also called for the release of all detained journalists, stopping harassment and prosecution of journalists, allowing the practice of journalistic work freely, and respecting freedom of opinion and expression. 

Read also: Sudan coup leader Burhan ‘relieves’ envoy to Qatar of duties

On Saturday, five demonstrators were killed as crowds faced gunfire and tear gas in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities, protests against the military coup have been ongoing for weeks now.

Al Jazeera’s El Kabbashi as well as hundreds of people were detained over the weekend, most of them during the protests which saw civilians demonstrating against the military takeover across Sudan. 

Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for an end to “further arbitrary arrests” and crackdowns that have been carried out on anti-coup protests.

In late October, joint military forces detained civilian members of Sudan’s governing body, in addition to a number of ministers within the transitional government.

Armed forces also detained Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok over his refusal to support their coup.

The military junta has since cut off the internet in an apparent bid to prevent the world from seeing what is happening in the country. Army checkpoints have been set up on all major roads with several roads leading to the capital cut off by men in military uniform.

The country’s main pro-democratic political group Sudanese Professional’s Association (SPA) has been organising regular workers’ strikes in protest at the coup.

El Kabbashi’s arrest was met with international condemnation and raised global concern over the freedom of press and safety of journalists while on duty. 

International condemnation

On Monday, the International Press Institute strongly condemned the arrest of Al Jazeera’s journalist, and called on the Sudanese authorities to release him “immediately and unconditionally”. 

IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said the latest crackdown on journalists was a “clear attack on freedom of the press,” adding that “the media must be allowed to freely cover the unfolding events  in Sudan, and the country’s military must desist from all attempts to hinder the work of journalists.”

Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Farhan Haq, also called on authorities to release all detained journalists in Sudan, including Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in the Sudanese capital. 

On its part, the US State Department expressed concerns over the arrest of El Kabbashi, recalling that Sudanese security forces continue to arrest political leaders, civil society figures, journalists, and a number of protest organizers.

The US State Department stressed that the Sudanese military should release all detained civilians against what it described as a military takeover, including lifting the house arrest of the ousted Prime Minister.

Shortly after confirming El Kabbashi’s arrest, Al-Jazeera condemned “this behavior in the strongest terms,” ​​and called on the Sudanese military for an “immediate release”, urging authorities to allow journalists to work freely and not under threat. 

The Qatar-based broadcaster also held the Sudanese military “responsible for the safety of all its employees.”

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