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Freed Sudan Journalist Hails Press Freedom 'Precedent'
12/26/2013 12:32:19 PM

Faisal Mohammed Salih

(GIN) An award-winning Sudanese journalist charged with publishing lies about a young woman activist's claim of rape while in custody was acquitted in a surprise ruling. He hailed the verdict on Dec. 22 as a step forward for press freedom in the country where journalists complain of frequent censorship.

"I'm happy. It's a very important precedent," said Faisal Mohammed Salih in a press interview after Judge Esmat Suliman threw out the charge.

A member of Sudan's security bureau filed a criminal code complaint against Salih, alleging he had lied and insulted the state in a 2011 column about an activist's allegation of rape in custody.

Salih could have been jailed for up to six months if convicted.

The journalist "did not publish lies and did not insult the state", Suliman ruled. "A lot of media published about this case."

In his article, Salih had called for a "serious investigation" into the activist's allegation that she was raped in detention.

"It's very positive for the freedom of the press and the role of the press in society," he said, noting that the judge described his article as "very objective".

Other journalists were previously jailed and fined for writing about the activist's case, and one more reporter is still before the courts, Salih said.

Salih also teaches journalism and advocates for press freedom. In October, Salih received the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, named for the late Agence France-Presse reporter and editor Peter Mackler.

Camille Mackler, project director for the Peter Mackler Award, said: "Our goal for the last five years has always been to shine a light on the courage and commitment to human rights and dignity that Mr. Salih exhibits every day through his work."

"When a young woman was raped by government forces, he could have simply chosen to look the other way and not risk his own life. Instead, he reported about it until the same forces tried to silence him as well. This courage and attachment to journalistic ethics is what the Peter Mackler Award seeks to encourage and reward every year," she added.

Sudan ranks near the bottom, at 170 out of 179, in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2013 World Press Freedom Index.

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