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Cablegate: Verdict Reached in Trial of Murdered Sudanese Journalist

VZCZCXYZ0003
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHKH #1767 3171232
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 131232Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 9150

UNCLAS KHARTOUM 001767

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR AF/SPG, DS/IP/AF, and DS/OPO/FPD


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM SCUL ASEC SU
SUBJECT: VERDICT REACHED IN TRIAL OF MURDERED SUDANESE JOURNALIST


1. (SBU) On November 10 a Khartoum criminal court convicted ten
individuals in the 2006 murder of prominent Sudanese journalist
Mohamed Taha Mohamed Ahmed, including a U.S. Embassy local guard.
While most press reports indicated that the convicted men were all
from the troubled Darfur region, an Embassy investigator told poloff
that they came from various regions and tribes. The presiding judge
sentenced the ten men to death by hanging; the defense team has said
that it will appeal the verdict.

2. (SBU) During the investigation and subsequent trial, local
Embassy investigators and guards presented statements to the court
on behalf of the detained employee (who is from the Fur tribe), who
was on duty at the time the crime allegedly took place. The employee
told Embassy investigators that he had been instructed by his
arrestors 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). Amnesty
International and the United Nations Mission in Sudan have reported
that the detainees were tortured in order to extract confessions.

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

3. (SBU) On September 5, 2006 masked assailants kidnapped Mohamed
Taha, the editor-in-chief of 'Al Wafaq,' 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.

4. (SBU) More than 70 people were detained during the five month
investigation, mostly of Darfuri origin. According to the United
Nations Mission in Sudan, several were forced to claim affiliation
with Darfur rebel groups. Nineteen individuals, including two women,
were ultimately charged in connection with the murder. The trial
opened in Khartoum on February 21. In August, nine of the defendants
were acquitted for lack of evidence. Defense lawyers pleaded not
guilty for the remaining 10 defendants.

FERNANDEZ

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