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Faisal Salih: Paying The Price for Speaking Out In Sudan

Faisal Mohamed Salih

Faisal Mohamed Salih, 53, winner of the 2013 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, is a celebrated Sudanese journalist. But he is much more than that. In a country where democratic freedoms and human rights are violated with impunity, he understands that only by fighting on multiple fronts, including for other human rights defenders, can the battle against political barbarism be won.
One such human rights defender is 25-year-old Safia Ishag. A student at Khartoum University in 2009 where she read fine arts, she joined Girifna (We are Fed Up) a pro-democracy movement that opposed the ruling NCP of President Omar al-Bashir. It was a time when the country was gearing up for elections. And as an activist Ishag helped people register to vote.
In January 2011, encouraged by the Arab Spring Ishag was among those who called for democracy in Sudan, attended political rallies and distributed flyers. The protests were met with arrests of many activists.  (Incidentally, journalists too were arrested in these crackdowns by the al-Bashir government. Read Reporters without Borders (RSF) reports here)
“A couple weeks later, Ishaq was kidnapped by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) agents and taken to a house, she said. She described being tortured and gang raped multiple times. In between rapes and beatings, they told her they knew she had attended the rallies of January 30 and handed out flyers,” writes Louise Hogan, in the blog Women under Siege.
The saga does not end here. Ishag was one of the few women, perhaps the only one in Sudan who has publicly spokenthe torture she underwent in the hands of the NISS.
In March 2011 after Ishag went public about her ordeal, Salih and other journalists denounced the NISS in their writings. The attorney general’s office summoned him and two others to be interrogatedafter the security forces accused them of spreading “false information.” Harassment in the hands of state authorities continued well into August with other journalists too being investigated or tried before courts for reporting the torture of Ishag. The NISS said Saleh was defamingit by associating its officers with the rape.
Salih’s commitment to empowering defenders of democracy and human rights did not stop with writing about activist Ishag. As director of the NGO Teeba Press he also trains journalists. In countries where journalists realise how fragile the defences of democracy are they take it as a duty to train others who can carry on the good work in the event they themselves are unable to do so for some reason.
“Of course, it’s not safe to speak in Sudan. We are trying to speak out and we are paying the price for it,” Salih has said. Work is trying under repressive governments where censorship is the norm and self-censorship sadly closes the few windows of opportunity that open to test the limits of media freedom. So he spoke to the international network Al Jazeera on April 25 last year. His comments were a response to al-Bashir’s remarks about the conflict in South Kardofan.
The NISS retaliated by asking him to report daily to its offices for 13 days. He was not interrogated about anything but made to sit in office throughout the day. On May 8 when he failedto report to the NISS he was arrested and kept incommunicado and without food or drink for 12 hours. Rearrested on May 9 he was detained for six days. On May 15 the State filed criminal charges for not cooperating with authorities. On May 30, he was acquittedby court.
Faisal Mohammed Salih demonstrates the resilience and courage of journalists all over the world who have to contrive different means to beat state repression. They do it not only by writing about injustice and abuse, but crusading on behalf of the voiceless. Not just exposing criminals, but training others to do so. Risky work indeed, but there is no alternative.
For more on Salih read here

For more on recent development in Sudan’s media read here