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Editor-in-chief of daily "Al-Ayam" imprisoned

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has called for the immediate release of "Al-Ayam" editor-in-chief Mahjoub Mohamed Salih. He was imprisoned on 14 January 2004 because of his newspaper's unpaid tax arrears of 90 million Sudanese pounds (approx. US$348,350; 276,500 euros).

Economic security agents went to the daily's offices on 14 January and demanded the immediate payment of tax arrears. Salih was arrested and jailed because he was unable to pay. His paper has been suspended since 3 December 2003.

"While there is no doubt that newspapers should pay their taxes, we condemn the Economic Security department's methods. They should not have imprisoned the editor-in-chief of "Al-Ayam", an independent newspaper that has had no regular income for months because it has been the victim of constant suspensions," said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "We call on the authorities to release Salih immediately, demonstrate more flexibility in recovering tax arrears and allow the reappearance of the daily, which is one of the pillars of the Sudanese press," Ménard added.

Security forces suspended "Al-Ayam" on 16 November (see IFEX alert of 18 November 2003). The paper was then allowed to reappear on 22 November, only to be suspended indefinitely again on 3 December. The daily was accused of "threatening the country's security and stability". On each occasion, the paper was suspended at dawn, after it had already been printed, entailing considerable financial losses.

Earlier in the week of 12 January, Salih had been negotiating the payment of his paper's tax bill with the Finance Ministry's economic services. The ministry had agreed to reduce the amount of arrears owed by half. A meeting was also scheduled for 17 January to establish a payment timetable and give the daily a chance of financial survival. The paper recently marked its 50th anniversary.

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