|Nagla Sid Ahmed Elsheikh has experienced relentless persecution for her work highlighting rights violations in Sudan, her homeland to which she yearns to return
Nagla Sid Ahmed Elsheikh’s story is an inspirational one. Her commitment to media freedom, human rights and to spreading the truth of the suffering facing many people in her native Sudan has led to her being flogged, threatened and forced into exile. Yet she remains steadfast in her dedication to raising awareness of human rights violations in her native Sudan. During a meeting with DCMF’s Peter Townson in Kampala, she discussed her past and how it has shaped her outlook of the media, education and her own future.
Describing her new life in Uganda and the story which has led her to this point, Sudanese journalist Nagla Sid Ahmed Elsheikh become visibly upset, especially when speaking about the country and colleagues she has been forced to leave behind.
Nagla feels sympathy and concern for her fellow journalists and human rights activists who remain in Sudan, and a sense of guilt at the fact that she has fled to safety. However, life in Sudan had become almost impossible for the journalist, who faced constant pressure as a result of the work she was producing.
However, it was this work on Darfur and tribes in the Nubia mountains that led to her being apprehended and accused of intending to take a new case to the International Criminal Court in 2012.
“They came to my home in Khartoum, and confiscated all my equipment – my cameras and laptops, and then they brought me together with the lady who I had interviewed during filming,” she tells DCMF.
This was by no means an isolated incident, and Nagla has faced numerous threats over the past decade.
She explains that the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) has been following and harassing her since 1993, adding that in 1997 she was taken to court, flogged and fined after she and 36 other women presented a letter to the UN, highlighting and protesting the recruitment of secondary school students for the war with South Sudan.
She faced further difficulties in 2012 when she was filming the funeral of a student in Darfur, allegedly killed by the NISS, and was taken out into the street and beaten.
She has regularly been exposed to extremely harsh insults, and both she and her husband have been victims of psychological abuse and intimidation. And Nagla believes that her position was made even more difficult because of being a woman, referring to certain legal restrictions which exclusively deal with women, as well as cultural issues facing women in Sudan.
Despite the difficulties she has faced throughout her journalistic career, Nagla only felt that her life in Sudan was untenable when the authorities threatened her 14-year-old daughter. For Nagla and her husband, Bukhary Osman Elamin, this was the final straw.
Life in Kampala
Nagla chose to resettle in Kampala, where she is now continuing her studies and developing her skills as a journalist.
While she is safer in Kampala than Khartoum, Nagla still fears the influence and power of the NISS, and she recently had a scare whilst attending university. While sitting an exam, Nagla noticed the attendance of an intelligence officer from Sudan, ostensibly attempting to disguise himself as a student.
There were two possibilities, she suggests. Either the official was visiting the university to monitor Nagla and other students who have carried out similar work, or he was there to follow up court cases she is facing back at home.
Whatever the reality of the situation, the officer’s appearance was enough to terrify Nagla and cause her to enroll in another university.
Commitment to education
As a result of switching universities, Nagla currently lives some distance from her place of study, meaning that she has to take two forms of transport, followed by a long walk on foot, to reach her lectures.
This exposure leaves Nagla vulnerable to attack, and she fears that the Sudanese government could easily hire someone to make an attempt on her life at any point. Yet she refuses to put an end to her efforts to better herself and learn more about a career which, in many ways, she fell into as a result of her strong personal conviction and sense of justice.
And as a result of her being away from Sudan, she has found herself with time on her hands to learn more about journalism.
“I have plenty of time here – when I was in Khartoum I was so busy with filming and distributing these films for publication, I didn’t have time for education, so when I came here I found this time, so I went to university,” she explains.
“For us education is so important, you know you have to educate yourself all the time – all your life,” she adds.
A terrible dilemma
Despite the bravery, courage and conviction that she has displayed so clearly throughout her journalistic career, Nagla still feels guilty for leaving Sudan. Shedding tears as she describes the difficulties facing her colleagues at home, she expresses how difficult it is for her to feel anything other than remorse for choosing to relocate.
However, in reality, like so many other journalists in the region, Nagla did not really have a choice. Her life in Sudan had become too dangerous, and while she was willing to contend with threats against her own safety, she simply could not take a chance with her family’s wellbeing.
Nagla continues to work, and while it is more difficult to write and produce films about issues in Sudan from outside the country, she retains a strong network of contacts and a comprehensive back catalogue of footage.
She says she has no regrets for any of the work she has carried out, feels pride in her work and retains her belief in the power of journalism to bring about change.
“Luckily my family is a political family, my husband is a political man and he is supporting me and providing me equipment,” she explains, adding “I found great spiritual and material support from my husband, my friends and from other people that I know and that I don’t know.”
“Most of the people and organisations which supported me I didn’t know and this gives me the strength to carry on my work,” she adds.
Nagla believes that media should be used to educate members of the public and to keep people informed about the actions of repressive governments.
“We can make the citizens more aware of their rights, let them known if their rights have been violated, and then help them defend their rights,” she says.
“In Sudan there are many violations against freedom of expression and the government is denying every right for citizens to know the truth and not let them know anything that is going on,” states Nagla.
This compulsion to raise awareness of the human rights violations occurring throughout her country and her desire to provide a voice to repressed groups in Sudan are what spurs Nagla on.
Yearning to return
“I came here because I was threatened,” says Nagla, explaining that one of the cases which have been launched against her, in which she is being accused of inciting violence against the state, holds the penalty of death by hanging.
“The case is there – we are here!” she says, making light of the serious threat facing her and her family. However, evidence of her overwhelming desire to return to Sudan and continue her work there is obvious every time Nagla speaks.
“There is no media freedom in Sudan. I am not the only one who was attacked – there were four other women attacked at that time [of Nuba mountain reports], and their equipment was confiscated,” she says, adding that numerous other journalists face an everday stuggle to carry out their work.
“If there was change there tonight – we would be there tomorrow,” she notes, adding “we would be there now if we could.”
This interview was conducted in Arabic with translation. Nagla’s videos can be viewed at her YouTube channels, dedelkezan1and naglaseed.
Source: Doha Centre for Media Freedom