Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Wednesday it is alarmed to learn that radical Islamists have been threatening and attacking the journalist Shamael Al-Nur in the media ever since she denounced the government’s public health policies in a column in the independent newspaper El Tayar on 2 February.
Her Islamist critics have even accused her of apostasy, which is punishable by death under the Sharia law in force in Sudan since 1983.
Headlined “The Virtue Mania” and alluding to the fact that less than 3% of Sudan’s budget is allocated to health and education, Al-Nur’s column said: “Islamic regimes are preoccupied with matters of virtue, women’s dress, appearance, more than health and education issues.”
“It is easy to cut spending on health in the state budget, but it is very difficult for the Ministry of Health to distribute condoms,” the article concluded.
Those leading the verbal offensive against Al-Nur include Mustafa Al-Tayeb, the editor of the newspaper El-Sina and uncle of President Omar Al-Bashir. He likened her to a “worm” and said she had to be prevented from corrupting the country’s values.
A radical imam who supports Al-Qaeda, Mohamed Ali al-Gazouli, attacked her in the same newspaper on 16 February and urged his followers the next day to “get up to protect your religion.” He also threatened to bring a judicial complaint against her accusing her of apostasy.
“The publication of this kind of threat in the newspapers is unacceptable and clearly shows the arbitrary to which media freedom is submitted in Sudan,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk.
“After the media were banned from discussing economic reforms and the conflict in Darfur, will it now be impossible for women to talk about their health? And yet publicly threatening a journalist seems to pose no problem! We urge the authorities to do what is necessary to protect Al-Nur and the rest of Al-Tayar’s personnel and to condemn these calls for hate and violence.”
Al-Nur has filed a complaint against Al-Tayeb, accusing him of inciting hatred and extremism. El Tayar has stood by Al-Nur, requesting police protection for her. But, to RSF’s knowledge, no protective measures have so far been taken.
Faisal ElBagir, the coordinator of the Journalists Association for Human Rights (JAHR), attributed the virulence of the response to Al-Nur’s column to her sex. “If a man had written this column, he would not have gotten such a fierce reaction,” he said.
Al Tayar has paid a high price of being outspoken. The authorities have often confiscated entire issues as they came off the press and its editor, Osman Mirghani, was beaten unconscious in July 2014 after referring to the normalization of relations with Israel during a radio debate.
The security services closed the newspaper in December 2015 after it criticized the finance ministry in an editorial. In May 2014, it was suspended again for four months without any grounds being given.
Sudan is ranked near the bottom of RSF’s2016 World Press Freedom Index (174th out of 180 countries) and President Al-Bashir is on RSF’s 2016 list of press freedom predators.