Sudan drops spying charges against aid workers

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM, June 20 (Reuters) - Sudan has dropped charges of spying, destabilising society and publishing false information against two international aid workers from Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), officials said on Monday.

MSF Holland's country director Paul Foreman and Darfur chief Vincent Hoedt were arrested last month after MSF published a report detailing some anonymous testimonies of 500 rape victims over four and a half months in the troubled Darfur region.

"We were informed yesterday by the ministry of foreign affairs that all the charges have been dropped because of all our good medical work in Sudan," MSF official Kenny Gluck said in Khartoum.

Abdel Daim Zumrawi, the senior official in the ministry dealing with the case, said the charges were dropped. "Yes I can confirm that now," he said.

The report released in March was based on medical evidence after the victims were treated in MSF hospitals in the remote region.

The government says there is little rape in Darfur, despite evidence found by a U.N.-appointed commission of inquiry of mass rape and reports by human rights groups and non-governmental organisations of widespread rape.

The International Criminal Court launched a probe earlier this month into alleged crimes against humanity during more than two years of rebellion in Darfur.

It has a list of 51 senior government and military officials, rebel and militia leaders and foreign army officers suspected of war crimes.

Sudan's attorney-general, Mohamed Farid, had said the MSF report was false because the organisation had declined to produce any evidence despite many requests from his office.

He said the maximum penalty for the crimes was three years imprisonment and permanent expulsion from the country.

MSF said it would not violate the principle of patient-doctor confidentiality. The report was backed by the United Nations and was quoted in the secretary-general's report to the U.N. Security Council.

Rape is a sensitive subject in Muslim Darfur and victims are often ostracised by society. The crime is rarely reported as it is difficult to prove under Islamic sharia law in place in Sudan.

Pregnancy out of wedlock is illegal and rape victims have been known to have been arrested for that crime, according to the United Nations and testimonies in the report.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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