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Sudan | Mar 29, 2019

Sudan Frees Editor As Football Fans Launch Protest

AFP
Osman Mirghani, who was released Friday, is greeted by his sister in the Sudanese city of Omdurman.  By ASHRAF SHAZLY (AFP)
Osman Mirghani, who was released Friday, is greeted by his sister in the Sudanese city of Omdurman. By ASHRAF SHAZLY (AFP)

Sudanese security agents on Friday released a prominent editor who had been detained for weeks for criticising a state of emergency, as scores of protesters including football fans held anti-government rallies, witnesses said.

Osman Mirghani, editor-in-chief of independent daily Al-Tayar, was taken away by security agents from his office on the night of February 22 after making televised comments on President Omar al-Bashir's decision to impose emergency rule nationwide.

Bashir announced the measure after an initial crackdown failed to quell widespread protests against his administration that erupted in December.

"My father has been released and he's in good health. We are now on our way home," his son Jihad Mirghani told AFP.

Mirghani was arrested after an interview with Sky News Arabia in which he said Bashir's measures would "spark a new wave" of protests and send a message that the public "can exert more pressure to achieve its goal of removing this regime".

The US-educated engineer turned journalist has often been targeted by security agents, who have detained him several times, confiscated copies of his newspaper or barred its publication without giving any reason.

Mirghani's release follows a demonstration by journalists Monday in the capital Khartoum, where they expressed solidarity with the editor and called for greater freedom of expression.

Sudan's powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) regularly seizes entire print runs of newspapers over articles it deems inappropriate, especially those criticising the authorities or government policies.

Sudan is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in media watchdog Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

Football fans protest

Protests first erupted on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread, and quickly escalated into a widespread campaign calling for Bashir to resign.

Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 people have been killed.

Bashir, who swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, has remained defiant in the face of unrest.

He has announced a slew of tough measures along with the state of emergency to quell the protests, including banning unauthorised rallies and setting up special courts to investigate violations of the new rules.

Protesters continue to stage rallies, although their scale and intensity has shrunk since the state of emergency was imposed.

On Friday scores of football fans launched an anti-government rally after an evening match between Sudanese and Tunisian teams held in Omdurman, the twin city of capital Khartoum, witnesses said.

Waving Sudanese flags, the fans came out of the stadium and chanted "freedom, peace, justice," the catchcry of the protest movement, according to one onlooker.

"They are still outside the stadium and protesting," another person at the ground told AFP, without revealing his name for security reasons.

Death in custody

Protesters also rallied in the eastern town of Khashm el-Girba, witnesses said, calling for those responsible for the death of a teacher in custody to face a civilian court.

"No military trial for the accused," protesters chanted after Sudanese media reported that security agents who had interrogated Ahmed al-Kheir would be tried by a military court.

The authorities have not formally announced details of the accused or the trial.

Kheir was taken away from his home by security agents, alleging that he was a protest organiser, his relatives told AFP after his arrest.

Days later he died in detention, and a Sudanese official confirmed that the death last month was from wounds sustained while in custody.

Protesters also held a separate rally earlier on Friday in Omdurman, but security forces quickly dispersed them with tear gas, witnesses said.

A demonstration was also held in the town of Atbara, where rallies first erupted in December, but it too was swiftly broken up according to onlookers.

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