Somaia Ibrahim Ismail Hundosa
The story of Sudanese journalist and blogger, Somaia Ibrahim Ismail Hundosa, is a common one in Sudan, highlighting the kind of violations and constraints that plague journalism in the country and prevent journalists from being totally committed to their work.
Hundosa was tortured by Sudanese security forces, forcing her to flee to Egypt and to settle down in Cairo where she currently lives, and where she still receives death threats from different parties.
Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) talked to Hundosa about her bitter experiences both inside and outside Sudan.
Here she describes her troubled relationship with Sudanese security forces:
“I used to be a columnist and I contributed investigative articles and published news stories on different websites. I have never thought that my journalistic work would get me in trouble. I was soon proven wrong when I started receiving all sorts of threats on a regular basis on Facebook, accusing me of harming national interests and damaging the reputation of the country abroad.
I was at that time in Cairo and was contacted by Egyptian security informing me that my passport figured on the banned list and that I had to go back with my three year old baby to Sudan to address the issue. In spite of many people warning me not to go, I decided to take chances and go back home to see what was wrong.
The first thing I did after coming back to Sudan was to go to the passports department to see what the problem with my passport was. I was told that there was no problem but on my way back home I noticed that I was being tracked by a motorcyclist. There was also a car which pursued us along the way home.
The next day I was contacted by someone who introduced himself as brigadier Babeker Fadmi. He asked me to report to the police station but my friends advised me not go saying that the man wanted to set me up. Three days later, I was surprised to see three police cars in front of our house. Policemen in plain clothes got out of the cars, entered our house and carried me back, forcing me into one of the cars.
They kidnapped me, blindfolded me and put me in the back seat of the car. Every now and then, I had to suffer the humiliation of having one of them treading over my head. They took me to a deserted industrial area and threw me in a huge warehouse with many offices. When I tried to call my family to let them know about my whereabouts, a policeman snatched the cellular phone from me and turned it off.
Hundosa explained that her “ordeal lasted for five days during which she was deprived of food and water and was subjected to all kinds of torture. There were many offices and secret passages in the warehouse and I used to regularly here noise and people talking. I gathered that it was a sprawling detention facility.”
“They took me to one of the offices where I was interrogated by a high-profile officer who asked me if I knew why I was there. I said that I did not know, prompting him to reach out to a nearby drawer and get out newspaper articles which I published including one that was very critical of president Bashir.
He asked whether I had ‘written this stream of nonsense?’ Another officer who was present in the interrogation demanded whether or not I ‘intended to provoke the president.’ I replied with a series of questions, wondering whether I was being humiliated because of these articles and if I had been arrested for publishing them.
I told them that it would have been better for them to sue me in front of a court of law, but one of them asserted that they were free to do as they pleased and started to curse the Darfur region and its people.”
Five days of pain and torture
“The officer called someone and asked him to bring him scissors. Then they held me down to a chair and shaved my hair. They handed me a mirror and asked me about what I saw. This was just the first act of torture and what turned out to be along five-day story of pain and abuse.
I was terrified when I looked at the mirror. And when I protested at it, the officer slapped me twice causing me injuries which I still suffer from up until now. He then ordered another officer to bring him a whip and started beating me until I lost consciousness. After that, they took me to another office and kept me all by myself for three hours.
They resumed interrogation with me the next morning with the officer asking me ‘you were in Darfur in 2011, what did you do there?’ I replied by saying that I was there to oversee the work of my organisation, for which was officially licensed. He retorted ‘our intelligence show that you are spies hired by foreign parties to whom you send wrong information.’ He asked me to give him my Facebook account and when I ignored his question and wanted to know why, he explained that I publish information that hurt the country’s image abroad.”
In spite of torture, Hundosa’s main worry was her three-year-old son who had been sick when she was arrested. She tried her best to get in touch with her son and asked the officer who interrogated her to allow her to call home and find out about his health. Her shock and devastation were unspeakable when the officer told her that he would slaughter her son in front of her eyes.
“One time, they took me to officer Bubaker Sadiq Bathani who ordered me to take off my clothes. With only my pants on, he started beating my belly and my back with three hot irons while the other officers laughed and relished in what he did.
I begged them to stop and to try and convict me instead of burning my body. Bathani kept saying that I had insulted the president and that he and his colleagues knew how to get their rights. He beat me again until a higher officer ordered him to stop. Before I left, he hit me with a whip twice on the head, and I almost fainted.”
“On the way to his office, the higher officer told me: ‘when you leave this place you have to completely forget what you have been through and not talk about it ever. There are some parties who want to harm our country and if it happens that any of them ask you where you have been just give them any excuse. If you talk you will be severely punished.’
Hundosa continued: “At the end of this nightmare, they took me back home and dropped me in a muddy and slippery area. They pushed me as I got out of the car causing me to fall down in the mud. They drove away but I was able to remember the plate number. When I came home
I was completely exhausted and went to the hospital the next day for my injuries. At the hospital, they asked me to bring a police report for me to be treated. I went to the police station to field a complaint about the NISS but they refused to receive it. I then went to the general prosecution but was met with the same refusal.”
“I spent a whole day moving back and forth between the general prosecution offices and the different police stations asking them to receive my complaint. Finally, one of the general prosecution offices accepted to open a file for my complaint against officer Bubakr Sadiq.
After that, I went to the hospital with my lawyer and my family and friends and we were accompanied by an officer who upon arrival at the hospital tried to give instructions and directives to the doctor. Luckily, the doctor ordered him to go and not to intervene with her work.
When I went home, a security officer came over to me and warned me not to say anything about my arrest. He also warned me not to publish or speak about what happened to me.
Exile in Egypt
Three days after her release, Hundosa managed to flee with her family to Cairo, but she could not escape the threats and intimidation from the NISS.
“Right after I arrived in Cairo, a security officer who got my phone number from the Sudanese Embassy in Egypt, told me that he is from the intelligence and that they heard about my experience and wanted me to return to Sudan and I will be compensated for what they did to me. When I refused his offer, he warned me that he won’t allow me to organise meetings in Cairo to talk about my ordeal in Sudan.”
Living under threat
“One day an unknown assailant attacked me with a knife and I filed a complaint about the incident at the Nile police station in Egypt. Three weeks ago, a thief broke in my flat and stole my projector and left a knife behind. I went to see the police and asked them to open an investigation and interrogate the block’s guard but they did nothing.
A few days ago, my neighbour saw a man holding a knife and trying to enter my flat. She asked the building guard to help but he refused to intervene. She then called the police, but when they came to my flat the guard persuaded them that the assailant was my brother. Later, I asked police for protection but they said that I have to move to another place.”
Sudanese authorities are still keeping an eye on me, and the Sudanese Information Minster told the BBC in a statement that I am a liar and that Sudanese security elements do not arrest journalists. It is ironic that he himself was a Guantanamo prisoner for a while.
In spite of all the threats she is facing, Hundosa is forced to stay in Egypt because she does have enough money to go and settle in another country.
“I went to Kampala, in Uganda, but I couldn’t stay there because of the high cost of living. I then moved to Kenya only to find out that it was more expensive than Uganda. My experience with Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was not any different.
I finally made up my mind to stay in Egypt hoping things will change for the better going forward. The problem is that I don’t feel safe in Egypt and that I have to find a safe place for my son to grow up.”