(28 June 2017) Two Sudanese bloggers have been arrested and detained by the Ministry of Interior in Saudi Arabia since 21 December 2016, reportedly on the behest of the Sudanese Government. The two bloggers were arrested on 21 December for administering a Facebook page criticising the Government of Sudan (GoS) amidst the November – December 2016 civil disobedience campaign. The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) has learnt that Saudi Arabia plans to deport the two bloggers imminently to Sudan, and is concerned that if deported, the bloggers will be at risk of detention and torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). The two men have only been allowed two family visits, and have not had access to a lawyer. The two men are legally present in Saudi Arabia.
It is unclear if the two men face, at this time, criminal charges in Sudan. The men were told by Saudi security agents during an interrogation in March 2017 that there was a Sudanese criminal case, but they did not elaborate. ACJPS considers any action by Saudi authorities to send the two men back to Sudan to be a deportation, and not an extradition for them to face valid criminal charges consistent with international standards.
The two detained bloggers, Elwaleed Imam Hassan Taha (M) and Algassim Syed Ahmed (M), both accountants, were detained from their work place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 21 December 2016. Both of their residences’ were also searched by the arresting officers. They were then taken to a general prison located in the Elhaayr neighborhood, south of Riyadh.
Since their arrest, the two men have only been allowed family visits twice, and have not had access to a lawyer. Saudi security and intelligence forces have interrogated the men eight times without transferring them to the Office of the Prosecutor, contrary to the Saudi Penal Code. During a March 2017 interrogation the Saudi security and intelligence forces revealed that the Sudanese authorities had lodged a case against them, but did not disclose the charges.
On 11 June 2017, the Saudi intelligence officers took Elwaleed and Algassim to the Ministry of Justice for them to delegate a power of attorney for their financial and other entitlements in Saudi Arabia to one of their family members, after which they were informed that they would be deported to Sudan in the near future. Additionally, the Saudi intelligence officers informed Elwaleed and Algassim’s families that both men would be deported.
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), call on the Saudi Arabian authorities to release Elwaleed and Algassim in the absence of charges consistent with Saudi Arabian and international law, and refrain from deporting them to Sudan, where they are at risk of persecution.
Non-refoulement (the return of a refugee or asylum seeker to a country where they are likely to be persecuted) is a principle under customary international law. Under article 3 of the Convention against Torture, “1) No State Party shall expel, return, or extradite a person to a State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture, and 2) For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights”. Saudi Arabia and Sudan are both not parties to CAT.
In recent years, the Government of Saudi Arabia has colluded with Sudan to arrest and detain dissident Sudanese journalists. In 2015, Sudanese journalist Waleed Aldoud Al-Mekki Al-Hussein, a long term resident in Saudi Arabia, was detained without charge or access to a lawyer for six weeks and threatened with deportation to Sudan. Mr. Al-Hussein is the founder of Al Rakoba online, a widely read independent Sudanese online newspaper known for its political analysis on Sudan. The online newspaper routinely runs stories on human rights issues and analysis critical of the Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP).
The diplomatic relationship between Sudan and Saudi Arabia has improved drastically within recent years, and is believed to have softened following Sudan’s participation in the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, which began in March 2015. Sudan has also authorized massive investment concessions in Sudan for the Saudis, and is Saudi Arabia’s gateway to further engagement with Africa. Both countries also have a difficult relationship with Iran. Saudi Arabia reportedly engaged in sustained advocacy with the US State Department to have the US sanctions against Sudan lifted.
Restrictions on the press in Sudan have culminated in a wide information gap within the country, with little access to independent news sources apart from those online.
If deported to Sudan there are grounds to believe that both men would face a real risk of persecution including arbitrary detention, or an unfair trial on serious criminal charges related to their activism. Freedom of the press is severely curtailed in Sudan and journalists who cross the “red lines” for reporting set by Sudanese authorities regularly face arbitrary detention and trumped-up charges that carry heavy penalties. On 7 May 2107, Sudan’s Press and Publications Council convicted and sentenced Madiha Abdalla, (f), editor in chief of Al Midan newspaper, to a fine of 10,000 Sudanese pounds (approximately $1,500) after convicting her under articles 159 (defamation) and 66 (disturbance of public peace) of the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Act. The charges stem from a case filed by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) two years ago, and are believed to be related to a story Ms. Abdalla published regarding aerial bombardment in South Kordofan in 2015. Ms. Abdalla currently has one other pending case before the Press and Publications Court, including a case filed in 2014. During the trial, the only evidence presented against Ms. Abdalla was testimony from NISS witnesses, who are the complainant in the case.
A spate of arrests occurred in November and December 2016 alongside a civil disobedience campaign. On top of the arrests was a sustained policy by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) of seizing newspapers from different media houses, including traditionally pro-government newspapers, in efforts to block all public discourse regarding the civil disobedience campaign and concomitant arrests. One private television station, Omdurman TV, was forced to close, and between 6 November and 6 December, seven newspapers, including four which are traditionally seen as being pro-government, were not allowed to distribute printed copies a total of 27 times.
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