“I am not giving up,” and again “We are not giving up.”
The National Intelligence and Security Service of Sudan has given journalist Faisal Mohamed Salih frequent cause to express his determination to see a free press unafraid to document government repression take root in his homeland.
As the Sudan Tribune noted, “He is no stranger to confrontations with the security apparatus.” Reporters Without Borders said that “In the face of harsh oppression, Salih remains a steadfast figure of free speech.”
The U.S. State Department singled out Sudan’s efforts to silence Salih in its 2012 report on human rights abuses worldwide.
“The government, including NISS, continued to arrest and torture journalists and harass vocal critics of the government,” the report said. “Authorities continued to target aggressively journalists and publications through contrived legal proceedings, politicized criminal charges, and confiscations.”
“For example, in April (2012) the NISS compelled Al Adwa newspaper Editor in Chief Faisal Mohamed Salih to appear for daily questioning after he criticized the president during an interview on Al-Jazeera. Saleh was arrested and interrogated for nine hours after he failed to appear for a 12th day of questioning,” the State Department report said.
The 53-year-old Salih, a reporter, editor, columnist and teacher now with the Al Khartoum Daily, most notably came to the defense of Safia Ishaq, an artist and activist with the pro-democracy Girifna (We Are Fed Up) group. She charged that in 2011 she was beaten and gang-raped after being dragged off the streets of Khartoum by government agents.
“All I wrote is that I called for an independent investigation of that case,” Salih said, but he was subjected to another round of NISS interrogations and court appearances.
Safia Ishaq had angered the authorities with an exhibit on the plight of women in Sudan. She said later that her captors accused her of being a “communist” and said of her short hair that “this is the style of communist girls.” She vowed to continue to “speak out against these people with my art and send a message – I will be strong.”
Salih, with a degree in journalism from al-Azhar University in Cairo and a master’s from the University of Wales in Cardiff, has worked for 25 years for various Sudanese newspapers and also is director of Programs for Teeba Press at the Media Training, Advocacy, and Consultancy Center.
The struggle to present the news accurately and fairly has been a constant. Sudan is currently ranked 170th out of 179 countries in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.
“The African nation is known for its widespread use of intimidation and violence to censor journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The result is a media landscape crippled by state censorship, and self-censorship is practiced by many of the country’s professional journalists.”
Salih has pledged to continue to work across that difficult landscape. “Of course, it’s not safe to speak in Sudan. We are trying to speak out and we are paying the price for it,” he said. The NISS continues daily visits to newsrooms “to decide what is published and what is not allowed,” he said.
On learning that he would receive the Peter Mackler Award, Salih wrote that “it is an honor for me to receive this award which carries the name of a courageous man and renowned journalist.”
“I look to it as an award to all Sudanese journalists, who are working in difficult circumstances, and all journalists around the world who are facing same situation.”