Friday, November 16, 2007

Justice in Sudan (or is it)

Earlier this week, the BBC reported that 10 men were convicted by a Sudanese court for the September 2006 murder of newspaper editor Mohammed Taha. (Not to be confused with Mahmoud Muhammed Taha)

The men convicted of Taha's murder were members of a tribe in Darfur. All 10 of them confessed to participating in the killing. The crime was allegedly motivated by an article Taha wrote questioning the honor of Darfuri women. So justice has now been served. Or has it?

For one thing, the BBC report points out that Amnesty International has raised some genuine concerns about the trial:

Amnesty says the 10 include a boy who was only 15 at the time, and says the defendants were convicted on the basis of confessions obtained by torture.


The police investigation focussed on the Darfuri community in Khartoum.

Amnesty says the police rounded up 72 Darfuris and "reports suggest that nearly all of those arrested were beaten and otherwise tortured to obtain confessions".


All the defendants brought to trial retracted their confessions in court saying they had been extracted under torture.

But attempts by defence lawyers to have their clients examined by doctors for physical evidence of torture were disallowed.

The full Amnesty report can be found here. When read in concert with this March 2007 Amnesty report on three other Darfuri suspects arrested in connection with this crime, it becomes quite clear that the Sudanese investigation of the Taha murder amounted to little more than rounding up the usual suspects.

So, if the Darfuris are innocent, than who did murder Mohammed Taha? The likely answer is radical Islamists who were enraged by his newspaper's publishing an article in 2005 that questioned the genealogy of the Prophet Mohammed. Taha was not simply killed; he was beheaded in a manner that, in the BBC's words, suggested "similarities with brutal killings by al-Qaeda militants in Iraq". In addition, a group claiming affiliation with al Qaeda proudly accepted responsibility for the murder. Many in Sudan took this claim seriously. As the BBC reported in the immediate aftermath of Taha's killing, "(o)ur correspondent says journalists in Sudan are scared, fearing they could be next if they do something to annoy the Islamic fundamentalists."

In summary, it appears likely that the Sudanese regime, in its rush to close the case and discredit its Darfuri enemies, has allowed the real murderers of Mohammed Taha to escape justice.


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