Good and bad media news from Sudan

The recent beheading of a newspaper editor in Sudan is horrible news -- but really what do you expect from a regime that has perpetuated one of Africa's longest and bloodiest civil war and continues to engage in ethnic cleansing in Darfur?

Masked gunmen bundled Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed, editor-in-chief of the private daily Al-Wifaq, into a car outside his home in east Khartoum late Tuesday. Police found his severed head next to his body today in the south of the capital. His hands and feet were bound, according to a CPJ source and news reports.

Mohammed Taha had previously angered Islamists by running an article about the Prophet Muhammad. He had also written critically about the political opposition and armed groups in Sudan’s western Darfur region, according to press reports. No group has claimed responsibility for the killing, Reuters reported.

Mohammed Taha, 50, was an Islamist and former member of the National Islamic Front. But in May last year, he was detained for several days, his paper was closed for three months, and fined 8 million Sudanese pounds (US$3,200), after he offended the country’s powerful Islamists by republishing an article from the Internet that questioned the ancestry of the Prophet Muhammad. Demonstrators outside the courthouse demanded he be sentenced to death for blasphemy. Sudan is religiously conservative and penalizes blasphemy and insulting Islam with the death penalty.
A crackdown on the press seems to have intensified over the past year, although Sudan had until then a lively and diverse press (even if it was mostly not free.)

On the bright side, Chicago Tribune correspondent Paul Salopek, who had been charged with espionage, has been released thanks to the efforts of New Mexico's governor:

EL FASHER, Sudan, Sept. 8 -- Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek said from a Sudanese prison Friday night that the government would soon release him and two Chadian colleagues after a 34-day confinement on charges of espionage and producing "false news."

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir agreed to release Salopek after meeting with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. The three men are expected to be freed Saturday, Richardson's office said in a statement.

Salopek, a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, was arrested Aug. 6 while working on a story for National Geographic magazine about the Sahel region that runs along the southern edge of the Sahara.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.