Sudan releases Al Jazeera’s bureau chief
El Musalmi El Kabbashi was arrested amid nationwide protests against Sudan’s military coup; journalists stage rally to denounce ‘campaign’ targeting them.
Authorities in Sudan have released Al Jazeera Media Network’s bureau chief in the capital, Khartoum, two days after he was arrested during a midnight raid on his home.
El Musalmi El Kabbashi was released on Tuesday. The military has yet to give a reason for his detention.
The journalist was among hundreds of people taken into custody amid mass protests across Sudan against a military power grab last month that disrupted the country’s transition towards civilian rule after the 2019 removal of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in the wake of popular protests.
Al Jazeera had condemned his arrest in the “strongest terms”, calling the military’s action “reprehensible” and urging its journalists to be allowed to operate unhindered. The Qatar-based media network also said it holds the Sudanese military responsible for the safety of all its employees.
The arrest was not the first time Sudanese authorities have singled out Al Jazeera. In 2019, security forces closed the network’s office in Khartoum and revoked the work permits of the network’s correspondents in the country.
El Kabbashi’s arrest on Sunday came after security forces fired live bullets and tear gas at anti-coup protesters in Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman, killing at least eight people.
The Sudanese military seized power on October 25, dissolving the country’s transitional government, shutting down the internet and detaining dozens of officials and politicians, including Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok who remains under house arrest, as well as journalists.
On Wednesday, dozens of journalists gathered in central Khartoum near the military headquarters to denounce what organisers said was a “campaign to target journalists”.
“In dictatorships, journalism dies; they will target journalists directly and they will terrorise them, because they know that journalism is the backbone of democracy,” said Mohamed Said, a journalist at al-Hadatha newspaper, which has suspended operations following the coup.
“We had a meeting and decided to stop because our newspaper had a mission of supporting the democratisation process in Sudan.”
“Defending the free press is ultimately defending what people think and defending their voices; that’s why we are here,” Hafiz Kabeer, a journalist with al-Jareeda newspaper said.
Bakri Khalifa, of the el-Sudani al-Daoulia newspaper, said he attended the rally “because I am afraid that we will go back to Omar al-Bashir’s era, when they confiscated newspapers and liberties and calling journalists to question them on their work – which is something they started to do.
“It’s just so scary and an unfortunate, but we will not give up easily.”
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across Sudan to protest against the military takeover.
The demonstrators also oppose the creation of a new governing council by the head of the army that excluded any representatives from the civilian Freedom and Change alliance.
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who led the military’s takeover, reappointed himself as head of the ruling Sovereign Council on Thursday. He also announced new members to the transitional body, including military and former rebel fighters on the deposed council.
Al-Burhan insists the takeover was not a coup but a “push to rectify the course of the transition”.
His move came as the military was due to hand over the leadership of the Sovereign Council to civilians in the coming months.
Western countries have urged the Sudanese military to reverse the coup.
Zeinab Mohammed Salih contributed to this report from Khartoum