Completing the soap opera surrounding the arrest of Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, and the closure of the newspaper affiliated to his Popular Congress Party [PCP], Sudanese state security prosecution has charged the deputy editor of the “Rai al-Shaab” newspaper with undermining the constitution, terrorism and espionage, publishing false news, undermining the prestige of the State, and inciting sedition. All of this may result in the death penalty being issued against the deputy editor; however is it reasonable for the punishment of publishing false news in a newspaper to be as harsh as the death penalty?
Unfortunately this is what is taking place in Sudan, which recently re-elected its president for a new term in an atmosphere which “Arab” observers described as being fair and positive. However what kind of regime is this which can be undermined and whose reputation can be hurt by a news article in a newspaper? A regime that can be undermined by a news article can only be described as a fragile regime.
Of course this is not to defend al-Turabi, or his newspaper; al-Turabi has reaped what he sowed, and he is experiencing what others have experienced, especially as he was responsible for organizing the coup which brought to power the regime that is imprisoning him today, or in other words putting into circulation the ideology of the regime that today believes that it is under threat from a news item. Rather the objective here is to defend an authentic principle which is that governments should not use any excuse to falsely accuse its citizens, so that it becomes their judge and jury. This is something that makes it easy for the government, unfortunately, to arrest and imprison citizens in the name of the reputation of the State, and for undermining the regime, whether this is in Sudan or other Arab countries.
The Sudanese regime could have responded to the news that Iran had infiltrated Sudan calmly, by asking for the newspaper to corroborate this, or retract it, otherwise the newspaper would be subject to the penalties stipulated by the Press and Publication Act, not to mention the damage this would have done to the newspaper’s credibility in the eyes of the Sudanese readership. The Sudanese regime could also have issued a statement denying the news, along with convincing proof, so long as the regime was convinced of the integrity of its position and that Iran has not infiltrated Sudan as the al-Turabi newspaper claimed, rather than resorting to a violent and unwarranted reaction.
The State, any State, is not hurt by news, and this does not diminish its prestige, for as long as the news is unfounded all that is required is a denial and a demand for the newspaper to corroborate its information. As for using excessive force, whether verbally or through actions, this is evidence that there is something larger, and there is fear that this will be exposed. Here it is sufficient to recall an incident where a convey that was carrying arms in Sudanese territory was said to be targeted by Israeli or foreign fighter jets last year, and it was also reported that these arms were from Iran, however we did not hear any adequate or convincing details about this attack from the Sudanese government!
What is interesting in Sudan today is that we see unarmed journalists behind bars, and an aged Sheikh being detained in prison in solitary confinement, under the charges of undermining the constitution and the prestige of the State, and inciting sedition. However all of this has taken place following the wars, the coup, and the disasters in the past and the present, including Darfur and others, and while Sudan as a whole is preparing for an Arab precedent, namely division…and so the question is that regardless of undermining the State or the constitution, or even inciting sedition, what can be worse than all of this?
Indeed it is a saddening issue!