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Cablegate: Death Sentence Appeals Refused in Flawed Trial for Murder

VZCZCXRO9149
OO RUEHGI RUEHMA RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #1709/01 3301319
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 251319Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2401
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE
RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 001709

DEPT FOR AF A/S FRAZER, SE WILLIAMSON, AF/SPG, DRL
NSC FOR PITTMAN AND HUDSON
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC PGOV PREL KPKO SOCI AU UNSC SU
SUBJECT: DEATH SENTENCE APPEALS REFUSED IN FLAWED TRIAL FOR MURDER
OF SUDANESE JOURNALIST

1. (SBU) Summary: Nine defendants convicted of murdering a Sudanese
journalist in 2006 retain one final appeal before they face
execution, according to UNMIS Human Rights and the defendants'
lawyer, Kamal Omer. The murder of Mohamed Taha Mohamed Ahmed
resulted in a politically-driven investigation and a highly-flawed
trial. Since the sentencing of the nine defendants in November
2007, Sudanese authorities have dismissed three appeals, acting in
the interim to commute the death sentence of only one of them, a 17
year old minor. A detainees in the case, who was released without
being charged, related how authorities had employed torture to
extract confessions. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Poloff spoke with Kamal Omer, a lawyer and political
activist who has served as pro-bono legal counsel for the nine
defendants since their arrest in 2006. Only one route of appeal
remains for the defendants. The Sudanese justice system rejected
the group's third appeal in October, and Omer remains concerned that
the final appeal, which costs approximately US$1,200 and is
scheduled be heard before Sudan's Constitutional Court, will be
similarly dismissed. In accordance with the 2005 Interim National
Constitution (INC), the Constitutional Court must issue a final and
binding decision examining the process from beginning to end, either
verifying the decision or ordering the trials recommence from the
beginning. Should the decision be verified, the court will forward
its decision to President Omar el-Bashir, who must confirm the
sentences in order for authorities to execute the nine defendants.

3. (SBU) Active within the opposition People's Congress Party of
Islamist-cum-federalist Hassan al-Turabi, Omer said he hopes that
international human rights organizations continue to press the
Government of Sudan for increased transparency in its justice
system. Hoping to bring to light the numerous shortfalls of the
prosecution's case, Omer listed the issues he intends to present at
the upcoming appeal: suspects were immediately tortured following
arrest; confessions were obtained using torture; no witnesses
testified at the trial; and no trial evidence was verified as having
been used in the commission of the crime. (Note: All of Omer's
assertions have been independently confirmed by UNMIS Human Rights.
End note.)

4. (SBU) Detained in September 2006, Ali Mohamed Sabaa told poloff
that during his year-long imprisonment, authorities vacillated
between "bad-cop" and "good-cop" roles, at times suspending him by
his wrists and beating the soles of his feet, and at other times
offering him cash, a passport and asylum if he confessed. Active
within the political movement of exiled Darfur rebel leader
Abdulwahid al-Nur, Sabaa traveled with the movement to Abuja in 2005
for Darfur peace negotiations, and directly accused the government
of using the crime as a pretext to arrest politically-active
Darfuris in Khartoum. After an imprisonment that included six
months in solitary confinement at Sudanese National Intelligence and
Security Services' (NISS) special section for political detainees at
Kober Prison, Sabaa has remained politically-active, but said he
fears future arrests. Sabaa was pessimistic as to the fate of his
former fellow detainees, saying that the authorities had set up the
case to frame the least educated people they detained, and then
deceived them with offers of cash for their families. "They were
forced to say this case occurred. They believed they would be
released after they signed a confession," Sabaa said.

----------
BACKGROUND
----------

5. (SBU) On September 5, 2006, a group of masked assailants
kidnapped Mohamed Taha, the editor-in-chief of Al Wafaq newspaper,
from his home in Khartoum; his decapitated body was found the
following day south of the city. The murder shocked the country,
drawing parallels to Al Qaeda killings in Iraq. The editor had faced
criminal charges in May 2005 after republishing an article regarding
the origins of the Prophet Mohamed, and a court had ordered Al Wafaq
to suspend publication for three months. The editor had also angered
many Darfuris after publishing articles criticizing the morals of
Darfuri women. Following the editor's murder, a Khartoum court
barred newspapers from reporting on the criminal investigation; this
ban continued throughout the trial as well.

6. (SBU) More than 70 people were detained during the five-month
investigation. Nineteen individuals, including two women, were
ultimately charged in connection with the murder. In August 2007,
nine of the defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence, and ten
were convicted and sentenced to death in November 2007. The first
appeal of the verdict was denied in March 2008. The second appeal of
the verdict resulted only in the reduction of one death sentence,

KHARTOUM 00001709 002 OF 002


that of a 17 year-old defendant, in August, and the Supreme Court of
Sudan denied the third appeal of the verdict in October.

7. (SBU) One of the defendants sentenced to death for participation
in the crime is a former local guard of the U.S. Embassy, Adam
Ibrahim al Haj. During the investigation and subsequent trial,
local Embassy investigators and guards presented statements to the
court on behalf of the detained employee, who was on duty when the
crime allegedly took place. The employee told Embassy investigators
that he had been instructed to confess, and to claim that he had
used an Embassy vehicle during the crime (which he refused to do,
telling them that guards were not permitted to drive Embassy
vehicles.)

8. (SBU) Comment: The high-profile murder of a controversial
journalist provided Sudanese authorities with an excellent
opportunity to display the sort of judicial integrity that is
guaranteed in the INC. However, the botched prosecution of the
defendants casts serious doubt onto whether the ruling NCP regime
has the will not to revert to the brutal and kangaroo court tactics
that have long been standard Sudanese judicial operating procedure.
An independent justice system would not tolerate the lack of
credible evidence and witnesses, an official gag order on
journalists covering the trial, nor a perfunctory appeals system.
This gives Sudanese and foreigners alike very little confidence that
any of those arrested for crimes in Sudan are actually guilty. An
exception, in our view, is the ongoing trial of the five Sudanese
defendants accused in the January 1, 2008 murders of USAID employee
John Granville and his driver, Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama. Based on
the evidence we have seen and that has been presented so far in
court, we believe those charged are receiving a fair trial.
However, while me some of those convicted of the 2006 murder of
journalist Mohamed Taha Mohamed Ahmed may in fact be guilty, the
process used in this case raises serious concerns about the Sudanese
justice system.

FERNANDEZ

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