Friday, May 25, 2012

Keeping a Baby

Once, there was a young lady…let us call her Fatima. She was in a serious  relationship and thought she would end up marrying her college sweetheart. Things happened fast, fueled by the hope of getting married and living happily ever after.

She fell pregnant and before she knew it, her stomach grew and her boyfriend couldn't afford to marry her. They broke up when it was too late to have an abortion. She ended up having the baby alone in a room with one of her friends holding her hand.

The baby was a beautiful girl she could not keep. She was worried about the society and about the little girl growing up fatherless….with no last name.

One night, she went with her friend and they left the baby close to the mygooma orphanage. An orphanage in Khartoum that grew at an alarming rate in the last decade or so.

The mother was too worried about getting caught. The police is brutal with unwed mothers and many questions need answers…….. Even if the baby did not belong to her, a long interrogation awaits her and the sentence for having a child out of wedlock is stoning.

The baby was left in the cold. Stray dogs gathered around the tiny thing, eating parts of her tiny hands. 

I can't forget a picture I saw two years ago of a baby left outside the mygoma orphanage. The tiny baby's head was missing a part, the post said that it was eaten by stray dogs.

In 2005, IRIN news reported the story of Musa. Left at two weeks old in the hands of a Sudanese policeman. Musa died two weeks later at Mygooma.

"He died of a broken heart," said Rose, a child psychologist at Mygoma to IRIN.

When I read the story of Intisar, a young mother who is less than 18 years of age. I remembered the picture of that baby with the damaged head. 

Intisar was accused of becoming pregnant by a man she was not married to. After denying it, she changed her statement and confessed to "adultery".  Sami Ibrahim Shabo, a judge in Ombada General Criminal Court, sentenced her to stoning in accordance to Article 146 of the  criminal law.

Intisar could have denied the allegations (just like the man in question did) , but she confessed. She did not take her baby to Mygoma or leave it at a mosque and get back to her normal life as a teenager, she kept the baby.

I hope the sentence is overturned and Intisar raises her baby, a baby she is willing to sacrifice a lot for.

At the end of the day, sentencing Intisar to stoning does not solve the fact that the Mygoma orphanage receives an alarming number of children.

We need to look at our society and how it is changing before our eyes. It is becoming a hypocritical society where people claim piety only in some aspects of their lives.

We also need to ask serious questions about the "marriage crisis" in Sudan. Why does it take years for a young graduate (without powerful connections) years to find a job that pays too late or pays occasionally (many companies do not pay on a monthly basis).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Who really protects you?

It all happened when our gas cylinder was stolen, it was a huge one kept in the outdoors area of the kitchen, the area where grand meals are cooked when the entire family is over for lunch.

It happened a day after or possibly the same day our neighbor's washing machine was stolen. It was also outdoors in their backyard.

A few days before that, we heard about two other thefts in the neighborhood, a tv was stolen from one house and another home appliance from another.

I wondered if its a broke young man wanting to get married and is in need of home appliances. 

People in my neighborhood were shocked, I live in an old, extremely quiet neighborhood of Omdurman where doors are never locked and guests are always over. 

So, the investigation began and all fingers pointed to the people living in the خور"…in front of my house. They are also called "shamasa". I see them on a daily basis, they basically live underground. There is a whole life down there, in the khor between my house and the main road. Families live there, they have young girls who wear very colorful dresses. Every time I see them coming out of the khor, I'm surprised. I still can not grasp the fact that people live underground.

Once the blame was thrown on the "under-ground people" , some people in the neighborhood visited the police station and filed a complaint.

They were told by the police that there is nothing they can do.

"We don't have enough forces, the police are now dispersed to protect oil pipelines and border areas," said a police officer.

So, who really protects you? No one. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sudanese women on frontline risking all to call for reform.

Published @

In Sudan’s conservative society where many believe a woman’s reputation and honor doesn’t belong to her alone, young female activists who are increasingly choosing to be on the frontline in the fight for democracy and human rights.  But not at a cost! They have faced more direct physical and sexual assault to deter them from standing up for their rights.
“The rape of Safia Ishaq made our female members scared and reluctant to work, they are strong, but this crossed a red line,” said Sarah Faisal, who is affiliated with the youth movement, Girifna that is an Arabic word for “We are Fed Up”. She was referring to the rape ordeal of one the movement’s members last year.
Girifna aims at using civil resistance to overthrow the current Sudanese government.
In February 2011, 25- year- old Safia Ishaq was kidnapped by three National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officers and gang-raped during her detention.
When Ishaq recorded a video testimony with the help of a friend to speak out about her ordeal, she shocked the Sudanese society, a conservative society where issues such as sexuality and rape are rarely discussed.
Ishaq had to flee Sudan after facing security threats from the NISS who were harassing her family about her whereabouts; she left behind a disapproving society and even worse, disapproving parents.
Faisal who worked with Ishaq in Girifna said that when you are subjected to sexual assault, the society does not protect you, it ostracizes you and discriminates against you instead.
“I think the NISS which is the main tool to suppress activism benefits from the way society views rape victims and uses sexual assault as a torture method and a way to pressure this activist out of the opposition sphere,” added Faisal.
Since 2011, along with other youth movements, Girifna has organized a series of anti-government protests in Sudan. Inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, the protests attracted hundreds of youth, but the protests were short-lived as the security crackdown became brutal. Rights-groups reported the arrest of over 130 youth activists last year alone.
Female activists in Sudan have been told off by police and security officers that they will face arrest, abuse and even rape. Every assault, verbal abuse, groping or even rape is justified because a woman does not belong to the streets and when she goes out, she willingly puts herself in this vulnerable position.
When Samah Adam, a young activist was arrested for participating in a protest last year, officers violently dragged her by her blouse. During the incident she tried to cover her chest, she was told she deserved this for going out to protest in the first place. She said that officers dragged women by their skirts and blouses and tore in the process as a way to humiliate them.
Adam was arrested in the afternoon and kept in the premises of the NISS until the early hours of the next day where she was beaten and was threatened with rape.
“I felt protected because I was in a group of 10 girls and it was my fourth arrest so I was less afraid of their threats,” she said. She added that if she was alone, she could have faced rape.
“The rape ordeal of Safia Ishaq was horrible, but the reactions to it by the society were even more disturbing,” said Amel Habbani, a journalist and activist who has served jail-time for writing about the rape case of Ishaq.
Habbani and another journalist, Fatima Ghazzali were jailed for their articles on the rape of Safia Ishaq but the NISS denies the incident but the official police medical report is proof that the rape occurred.
Looking back at the case of Ishaq, Faisal said that many activists and politically active women she knows fear sexual violence tactics and tell her “we don’t know what we will do or where we will go if we are rapped by the security agents. The security have succeeded in spreading fear of sexual assault in women,” she added.
Habbani who writes regularly on gender issues and violence against women believes that female activists are fighting on so many fronts. On one hand, they have to fight an unjust system and a sexist security apparatus and on another hand, they are fighting a sexist society.
“Even male activists who are very open about their opposition to the regime and the many infringes on rights issues it carries out are sometimes unresponsive to issues related to women’s rights,” said Habbani who referred to a well-known activist who stood against female activists on the case of Lubna Hussein and lashed at them in the newspapers.
Hussein, a vocal journalist was arrested in a restaurant with other girls and sentenced to 40 lashes for wearing trousers that were deemed “inappropriate ” by the public order police. Unlike the other girls, she refused to be lashed. In return, she went to court where she received a jail sentence and served time before she was bailed out.
Female activists don’t even have to go to a protest to face these security risks, they  are also terrorized by security officers from engaging in events organized by activists.
The NISS was shaken by the Safia Ishaq case. Until recently, activists reported that Sudanese government officials are asked about the investigation into Ishaq’s case at government-level international meetings. The NISS denies the rape charges and at least 10 journalists were tried and are currently still tried for writing about the rape case.
Still the security always finds a way to push female activists out of the front lines.
“There is a new trend, confiscating our equipment to stop us from working,” said Dalia Haj Omar, an activist. Omar added that her laptop and camera were confiscated last month because of her activism.
In a few weeks, the Sudanese parliament is expected to pass a strict anti-espionage Act. Activists and journalists fear the Bill because it will target their work whether through its social media, writing and activism. This law could sentence for instance a journalist to death for any work that is deemed by government to be a violation of this Act.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Solidarity with Sudanese Journalist and Activist- Faisal Mohamed Salih

Imagine being summoned by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) for two weeks , sitting in one uncomfortable chair inside their premises, sometimes doing absolutely nothing and sometimes watching tv from 10 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m.

Imagine forgetting to bring your bottle of water and not having anything to eat or drink all this time. Not even getting to use a bathroom.

I almost cried when Faisal Mohamed Salih, a well-known journalist and an amazing human being that I'm glad I got to know, told me that he was careful when he had a water bottle with him and drank small sips so that the water lasts him the whole day. 

Imagine going to court at least once a month for a period of one year for an article you wrote on Safia Ishaq …for expressing solidarity with a humanitarian case. 

Imagine being detained from your house two days in a row because you refused to show up to the NISS because 1- you have a life and a job 2- you don't want to sit in a chair and do nothing the whole day 3-you are not really being interrogated

Faisal Mohamed Salih is one of many cases that show how Sudan lacks press freedoms and its journalists and writer face ongoing harassment and intimidation.

I urge you all to show solidarity with Faisal Mohamed Salih and come to his trial tomorrow at 12:30 at the Northern Court Complex . He will face trial for an article he wrote on Safia Ishaq.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sudanese Journalist's Network Event on Thursday

In a forum organized organized by the Sudanese Journalists Network (SJN), there was widespread condemnation on the diminishing margin of press freedoms and the alarming rate of confiscation of independent newspapers.

"We are here to express a reality that 15 journalists and writers are banned from writing and  a reality  that newspapers are confiscated." said Khaled Ahmed, one of the speakers who is also a banned journalist.

The decision to ban journalists from writing is made by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), Sudan's security apparatus, through contacting the journalists or the newspapers that employ them. If they are banned, they can not publish in any newspaper. 

Mujahid Abdullah, who is also banned from writing since early April, said that banning a journalist from writing did not happen since Sudan's independence.

Amel Habbani, a banned journalist who served time last year for a published article told the attendees that 
"the Press laws are already bad, but the NISS have kicked them to the corner and is dealing with the laws of the jungle."

This year alone, the press in Sudan has faced a number of setbacks. Three newspaper were suspended in January and February and one of them, Rai-Al-Shab which is the mouthpiece of the Popular Congress Party (PCP), an opposition party, is still suspended.

The two other newspapers, Al-Tayar and Alwan are now back on the newsstands, however, just last week, an entire issue of Al-Tayar was confiscated from the printing house.

Al-Jareeda newspaper, suspended for over three months starting from last year was allowed to resume publishing early this year, however it has faced a number of confiscations this year.

Hassan Ishaq who writes for Al-Jareeda told Africa Review that it was confiscated three times in the past month alone. 

The editor-in-chief of Al-Jareeda newspaper, Osman Shinger, said in the forum that they work on two versions, one version follows the editorial guidelines of the newspaper , the other one is usually the one that gets published as it abides by the laws of the NISS.

"Many of the news that are censored from our newspaper are service-news such as an increase in food prices," stated Shinger.

The mouth-piece of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) , Al-Midan newspaper, was confiscated nearly 15 times this year. Confiscation happens at the printing house when the NISS sends officers with a truck to take all the printed issues.

Faisal Mohamed Salih, a journalist and human rights activist was arrested on Tuesday and released after a few hours for refusing to show-up to an interrogation at the NISS office.

"He was summoned by the NISS for 10 days in a  row and kept for 8 hours without any interrogation, he refused to go after the 11th day and this is why he was detained from his home," said Ahmed.

In a letter he sent via email and published on different websites, Salih stated that he was summoned for remarks he made in April on Al-Jazeera tv.

The SJN has vowed to take action by organizing silent protests and a march to the parliament  to protest the ongoing crackdown on the press.

Ahmed who is part o the executive committee of the SJN said that their slogan is "free press or no press".

"Its either we have real press freedom like the world, or we find another job," he added.

Monday, May 7, 2012

شوكلاته علي الطريق

لمن جيت السودان بعد ما اتخرجته من الجامعة ,زمن الوالد كان مغترب و الدولار ما كان زي ١٠٠ جنيه، كنته بمرق كتير عشان الشغل ، بغطي نشاطات  فنية و ثقافية ..عروض ازياء..افتتاح معرض وكدا ..وكانت وسيلة الموصلات بالنسبة لي هي الامجاد. دا طبعا قبلي ما دخلته في الصحافة بالطول و العرض و اتعرفته علي  موصلات العربي و جاكسون  (الكنته بسال الناس لو سموه علي مايكل جاكسون )
طبعا الامجاد خلتني اتعمق في عالم تاني، عالم السوداني المكافح العندو شهادة او الجاي من قرية ما سمعته بيها ، قابلته راجل المرة و الداير يعرس. وكل نماذج المجتمع السودانيما عارفة لو انا عشان صحفية  وبعرف ادردق الناس في الكلام او عشان  بيكونو  في الشارع اليوم كلو وعايزين و نسة لكن دايمن الونسة بتجر و بتعلم حاجات جديدة.

مرة كنته جاية من الرياض للخرطوم اتنين   وركبته امجاد  سايقه زول كبير في السن و عندو افرو
بعد كم دقيقة  اتكلمنا عن الجو ومن الجو بدا الحديث عن الشكولاته….. في   زمان بعيد كان عمو سواق الامجاد يعمل كمندوب مبيعات لشركة شوكلاته في بريطانيا
علاقة الجو انو فسر لي ليه الشوكلاته طعمها مختلف في السودان 
قال انو جونا صعب و الشوكلاته "حساسة" لازم تخزن بطريقة معينة . ناس المحلات  بخزنوها في المخازن الحارة بعدين في الثلاجات….بتسيح و بتتماسك…بتسيح و بتتماسك و الطعم بتغير و حتي الون بتغيير….عارقين الون الابيض البتلقوها في الشوكلاته بيحصل من الكلام دا
في سنة ١٩٨٦  الشركة رسلته لي بريطانيا و اخد كورسات في التسويق و الدعاية.
 قال لي انو "حياته كانت جميلة
لكن الزمن غدار و وظيفته بقت ما متاحة…بقي في شركات استيراد و تصدير و سوبر ماركتات بالكوم و عمو بقي سواق امجاد بيشارك الركاب بشغفو  مع الشوكولاته


Sudan journalists protest attacks on press freedom

Published @

On May 3rd as the world marked the World Press Freedom day, an annual day declared by the UN General Assembly, Sudanese journalists had no reason to celebrate.  In fact, they spent the day just like many days before it, fighting against censorship and calling for press freedom.
Journalists working for Al-Jareeda newspaper, an independent daily based in Khartoum, headed to the Sudanese Journalist’s Union (SJU) not to join their celebration, but to stage a silent sit-in. On May 1st and May 2nd, Al-Jareeda was taken over by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) of Sudan.
Since its inception in 2010, Al-Jareeda has been known to feature all voices and for it’s good coverage of issues affecting people in states beyond Khartoum state, where the capital lies. It has faced many problems for its work, ranging from regular confiscations, pressure on the administration to fire certain columnists for their controversial work and a three-month suspension by the NISS at the end of last year.

The writers and editors sat inside the SJU for hours and made national and international news. 

One of the newspapers editors said that their sit-in overshadowed the celebration of the SJU as it was covered by Al-Jazeera and other channels.
Photo credits: State of Media Khartoon! by Khalid Albaih

At the same time, a significant number of journalists, editors , activists and the who’s who in Sudan were gathering at a workshop spearheaded by Al-Midan, the mouth-piece of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) to celebrate the memory of its veteran editor, the late Al-Tijani Al-Tayeb.
The editor-in-chief of Al-Midan, the only female who occupies this position in Sudan, Madiha Abdullah,said to the audience that Al-Midan was raided on World Press Freedom and this did not surprise her at all.
So far, Al-Midan has been taken over by security forces 11 times in May. This is a lot for a newspaper that is issued three times a week.
The workshop titled ” The reality of press freedoms in Sudan” discussed the personality and work of Al Tayeb who was the editor-in-chief of Al-Midan when it flourished under democracy and had to work underground in dictatorial periods. For over a decade until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in 2005, Al-Midan was published underground and distributed secretly.
The situation is not very different now. Confiscated issues of Al-Midan are uploaded to their website for their readers. Columnists who face censorship and are not allowed to publish their work in print media send it to websites such as Sudanile , Hurriyat and Al-Rakoba.
In Al-Sharjah Hall where the workshop was held, Amel Habbani , a well-known human rights activist and journalist headed one of the sessions.

“The number of journalists banned for writing in Sudanese newspapers went up to 11 in just the week ending April,” said Amel Habbani who is a banned journalist herself. Banned journalists are either not allowed to write by NISS or newspapers are too worried about publishing their work because they are afraid of confiscations and harassment.
In theory, NISS is not allowed to confiscate issues or suspend newspapers, but yet they do. NISS officers take matters into their own hands and close down newspapers. This year alone, three newspapers were suspended. Two have resumed work, but Rai Al Shab remains suspended.
The law they use to close down newspapers is the same law used to confiscate expired foods, one of the attendees said. One journalist said that he was summoned by NISS recently and he gets regular threatening calls. And some journalists are battling court cases for articles they have published.
A UNESCO  report published on World Press Freedom Day in 2011, Sudan ranked 40 out of 48 in Sub-Saharan Africa for press freedom.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sudan- Journalism Without Journalists

The message arrived at 9:30 , I was on my way to interview one of Sudan's most-famous journalists. It was from my former colleague and friend, Mohamed Subahi who informed me that the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) banned him from writing. Subahi to those who don't know him , is a business graduate with a master's degree and an exceptional commitment to tell the story of young men such as himself- the victims of circumstances - they can't get married and are struggling to help their families make ends meet.

Adding Subahi's name to the list, there are currently 12 journalists banned from writing in Sudan by the NISS. They are all excellent journalists , some have over 10 years in experience, some have worked as journalists since their graduation from university. 

They are all dedicated (and may I add "addicted" , its a word creative people tend to use in reference to the way they love their work) to their work even though it does not offer them a great income and its mentally and physically exhausting.

Since his graduation from university a few years ago, Mujahid Abdullah has worked as a journalist at a number of newspapers. Lately, he was working at Alwan until he was stopped my writing by the NISS. When I interviewed him for one of my articles, he communicated a lot of frustration through a phone interview. He felt like a prisoner, he was "confiscated" along with his pen. 

If you are banned, no newspaper can hire you and you can't work in the journalism field. Sudan is very expensive, people work long hours to make ends meet. Now with the NISS banning writers and suspending newspaper (Rai-Al-Shab , Ahjras Al Hurriya etc), you can not begin to imagine how this has affected the lives of journalists. 

Let me tell you a little story. Last year, I went to Ahjras Al Hurriya to write a story about how the closure has affected the staff. One older man I spoke to summarized the struggle through a little story.

He told how he is very sad that he was having a hard time convincing his son to continue his university education . His son who is the eldest wanted to help his father who lost his job and was not making money and almost left university to get a job and support the family.

This man has 5 children and is one of at least 50 employees who all lost their jobs after Ahjras Al Hurriya was closed down.

Being a journalist with principles is very difficult. You have to pay for your opinions and principals and the price is too high in a country where the prices are too high.

One journalist who also lost his job told me that not only did he lose his job, but he also faces a social stigma in his neighborhood .

"NCP-supporters instigated the owner of the grocery shop and the bakery next to my house, I used to take things on loan and pay them when I had money, they don't deal with me anymore," he told me.

Another unemployed journalist told me that its either he sell his morals and ethics or leave Sudan.

A while ago, I remember reading a small article about journalists who have lost their jobs. It was something along the lines of "they come to talk and discuss current events at the tea lady, then end up taking transportation money from the tea lady."

But then again, an institution such as the NISS does not care whether you have a family or your kids go to bed hungry. We still have journalism in Sudan, we have about 22 daily newspapers, but we are lacking journalists.

The kind of journalists that write about how we feel, how we are not living. I miss reading Amel Habbani's column, small things, and I will miss reading about the problems facing young men in Sudan through the column of Mohamed Subahi. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Six People On Time

It was a little over a month ago that I found myself alone in a protest sitting on the stairs of a large tower with six security (NISS) officials clad in safari suits to add a sense of mystery to their work. One was picking his nose, two were staring at me, one got up to get a cup of tea , one was scratching his foot and another one was looking around trying to assess the situation and was possibly taking mental notes. I was tweeting and trying to find out why….people are late to a protest.

The protest was scheduled to take place at 12 o'clock and it was now 12:30 and I felt uncomfortable, bored and judgmental. If we really want to hold a successful event. whether its a protest or a workshop, we should all show up on time. Time is a key element in successful protests. We need to gather a sizable number of people and make noise before we are dispersed through violence, harassment or shoved into a police truck.
The "protestors" were supposed to meet at a certain spot about 5 minutes away from the tower , but many were late so as I was waiting with the 6  bored officers.  , they were also waiting for others to show up.

Sometimes everything in Sudan seems frustrating. We all seem to want Sudan to change for the better, but we don't go about it the right away.

I had to leave by 12:45 or 12:50 to get some work done. The protest did end up taking place and it was a relative success. The organizers managed to make noise and bring attention to their cause.

I wish I came an hour late to witness it :)