Amal Habbani was detained for eight days during the recent government crackdown on the Sudanese media as a result of her writing. Here she speaks to DCMF about her experience
Amal Habbani’s case gained international recognition and support when she was detained in September
Amal Habbani became one of the most prominent faces in the media’s battle against the government in Sudan when she was arrested on September 29. Her detention sparked protests both within and outside Sudan, and her story gained international attention. Here she speaks to Doha Centre for Media Freedom’s Peter Townson about her experience and the situation for members of the media in her country.
“I was arrested on September 29 at about noon after a peaceful demonstration for the funeral of the martyr Salah Aanhory,” explains Sudanese journalist Amal Habbani. “A force of about 12 civilians stopped me and ordered me to get in their car – they were carrying black sticks and I refused and shouted at them saying that they were abducting me,” she notes, adding “they tried forcing me into the car and one of them snatched my telephone from me as I was talking, although one of them spoke to me with respect and asked me to ride in the car without asking any questions.”
Amal was transferred to a location with a number of young people she says had been beaten badly. After waiting for an hour, she was interrogated by two security men who asked her about her writing, her activities and her part in the demonstrations. She was then blindfolded and taken to an unknown location where she was interrogated again. However, she refused to speak while she was blindfolded, and was then transferred to another office. Here she was interrogated from around 10PM until 1AM, she explains, noting that she was then blindfolded and transferred to yet another unknown location.
After being taken to a number of different places, she found herself in solitary confinement in Omburman prison. In total Habbani was detained eight days and was finally released on October 6.
“They led me from one place to another and I was cold and scared in a very small room for a long time – I did not know there were other women there until they brought another young woman to my cell,” she said, adding “then they told us we had a presidential pardon, but I do not know why they kidnapped me in this insulting way when what I wrote and spoke are the truth.”
“Slaughtering freedom of expression”
“Freedom of expression and journalism in Sudan collapsed to square one in the early 90’s – the security service is slaughtering freedom of expression into non-existence,” argues Habbani.
“We are now facing the worst lack of press freedom and I hope we can get real freedom of expression that is protected by the government instead of being abused by it,” she said, expressing her hope that the government can introduce legal reform to enshrine media freedom in the future.
However, Habbani is not particularly hopeful for her country’s future in light of the ongoing human rights abuses in Sudan.
“I feel so much sadness inside me for the young martyrs who were killed in the last demonstrations and those civilians who are killed every day in south Kordofan and Darfur – the amount of human rights abuses in Sudan makes me worry about our future,” she adds.
“We have a great responsibility towards our nation and our people as journalists and opinion leaders, and the way is still so long, but the best thing now that we are starting to form a basis for human rights protected by citizenship journalism instead of media that simply works as a mouthpiece of power,” argues Habbani.
Because of her conviction and belief in the power of the media to hold leaders to account, Habbani has a history of conflict with the authorities and has been sued for stories she has written in the past. Having spent time in prison and paid numerous fines for her work, she remains committed to her work as a journalist.
“I am not alone; many brave colleagues are doing the same thing and have paid a high price for their efforts,” she notes, adding “my writings have caused me many troubles and being an activist for women’s rights has led to me being imprisoned, jailed and sued around eight times.”
“The authorities refused to give me a license to be editor-in-chief of Aljareeda news paper as I was one of the founders,” she says, adding “I have been fired because of security orders and now I cannot write my column in any Sudanese newspapers.”
“But whatever risks I am facing at the time, what I am writing and doing are my beliefs and principles.”
Defending universal values
“I dreamed of being a writer when I was younger and I studied communication in the University of Khartoum,” explains Habbani, “having worked as a journalist I believe that the media is a means of changing individuals and communities’ lives for the better and of protecting human rights and the values of humanity.”
“Freedom of press is a human right and universal value, and journalists are being killed in countries such as Syria and Libya because they are publishing the truth about areas of conflict,” she says, arguing “it is important that there is solidarity between journalists and human rights activists around the world to offer protection to journalists in our positions.”
While local colleagues, journalists and activists demonstrated against her detention, Habbani believes that international attention and the efforts of members of the diverse and vast Sudanese diaspora helped to protect her during her recent ordeal.
“I think this international movement protected me a lot inside prison – they spoke to me in a respectful way although they were beating many young activists in front my eyes,” she states, “they were saying ‘we treat you well not to tell in the international media we oppressed and tortured you.’”
However, the sad reality is support from the international media is necessary because of the government’s control of the local media. Habbani counts among her friends and former colleagues, many voices which have already been silenced by the authorities, but the courage displayed by herself and other women in her situation, will hopefully inspire even more journalists and activists to speak up in the future.
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