Amal Habbani, one of Sudan's leading female journalists, has 12 years of experience and a master's degree, but she can't find a job.
"I remember that day very well. I went to work on the 9th of March and I was told that I was suspended for being an activist," said Habbani.
"No newspaper wants to hire a trouble-maker," she told me in a cafeteria near the Northern Khartoum Court, where we were supposed to attend the trial of Fatima Ghazzali, a journalist facing charges of defamation for writing about Safia Ishaq, a young activist who was arrested and subjected to gang-rape by the security forces in February after participating in a protest.
Habbani is a familiar face in every protest for freedom of speech and women's rights. Her writings and activism have caused Sudan's state security to file a number of charges against her.
Although at least 10 journalists were charged for writing about Safia Ishaq, only Habbani and Ghazzali went to jail for it.
Ghazzali was sentenced after refusing to pay a 2,000 SDG ($650) fine for "publishing lies." A few weeks later, Habbani refused to pay the same amount and chose a month-long sentence instead.
Margot Wallström, the special representative of the UN’s Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, commented on the charges against the journalists by saying: “Rapists--not reporters--must face criminal charges in the Sudan.”
Women journalists in Sudan are not only tried under Sudan's controversial 2009 press laws, they are also subjected to the infamous public order laws.
The pubic order laws are carried out by special forces called "the public order police" and their main aim is to fight social corruption and uphold moral values in Sudan.
In the beginning of 2011, I attended a meeting organized by No to Women Oppression, a group that fights against the public order laws. A few minutes into the meeting, we realized that as women, we are more scared of the public order laws than men.
We concluded that the laws target female students and professional women: journalists, activists and even lawyers, and that they specifically affect the full participation of women in the public space.
"I'm constantly harassed when I'm trying to get information for articles I'm writing, but I can't report it," said Amina*, a journalist in her early 20s, who did not want me to use her real name.
Amina is mainly scared of ending up like Lubna Hussein, a journalist who was arrested by the public order police in 2009 for "indecent clothing."
"Lubna Hussein was an active journalist who wrote a controversial column. They just had to create a case against her," said Amina.
The sentence for "indecent clothing" is getting lashed.
Habbani is battling a case against her by the public order police for writing an article in support of Lubna Hussein. She's being sued for 10 million Sudanese pounds ($3.5 million).
Credit Image: © Shao Jie/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com/
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