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Expelled from Sudan

Heba Aly tells how her reporting was increasingly constrained.

The peace deal mandates national elections by July 2009 — meant to be the first free and fair elections since the current president came to power in 1989. For months, the former southern rebels — now partners in a Government of National Unity — have been urging the ruling National Congress Party to adopt a series of new laws they consider prerequisites for proper elections, including a new press law and a new national security law. This has yet to happen.

Even more crucial than the elections is a referendum scheduled for 2011, in which the south will decide if it wants to secede. As the deadlines for these major milestones draw near, time for positive change is beginning to run out.

Yet in the lead up to a decision by the International Criminal Court on whether to indict Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide and war crimes over the Darfur conflict, things seem to be getting worse, not better.

In January, opposition leader Hassan Turabi was detained without charge for suggesting Bashir face the charges at The Hague. He has yet to be released. Also last month, a Sudanese man was sentenced to 17 years in jail for allegedly spying, by trying to send sensitive documents to the global court.

The tension and paranoia created by the ICC, combined with the lack of implementation of parts of the peace agreement, suggest troubling times ahead.

Southern politicians have openly threatened war if the government does not follow through with the elections and referendum. And as one analyst told me, "if war comes again, it will be the most intense fighting this country has ever seen."

(Heba Aly reported from Sudan on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.)