Beatings, cattle prods and mock executions: Kidnapped journalist reveals horror of 6 weeks captive in Sudan

‘The plane was taxiing, and I started to shout, to beg for my life’

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The Independent Online

A British journalist who was captured, chained up and tortured by the Sudanese authorities for more than six weeks was able to produce a film about his hellish ordeal by hiding a memory card in his anus.

Phil Cox crossed the border into Sudan along with his colleague Daoud Hari in December 2016 with the aim of reporting on the plight of people in the Darfur region – but was soon abducted by armed militiamen.

During their capture, the pair discovered the Sudanese authorities had tracked their movements and put a “capture or kill” bounty on their heads for more than £250,000.

As they neared the Jebel Marra mountains, the team were kidnapped by a militia in Darfur and held hostage by guards armed with AK47s. They were chained to a tree in the desert for a week and beaten.

It was at this point that Mr Cox was able to trick his captors into filming themselves on his camera. He then took the memory card and, in order to preserve the footage he had already obtained, wrapped it in a strip of black plastic and hid it inside himself.

The contents of that memory card are to feature in a two-part film by Channel 4 News, which commissioned Mr Cox and Mr Hari to report on the impact of illegal migration through Sudan and investigate allegations of Sudanese government attacks on civilians in Darfur using chemical weapons.

Their ordeal did not end in the desert, however. The militia transferred the pair to the Sudanese Government authorities, who detained them in the notorious Kobar Prison, Khartoum.

Writing in The Guardian on Wednesday, Mr Cox describes how on the flight from El Fasher to Khartoum, men threatened to throw him off the plane.

“The plane was taxiing, and I started to shout, to beg for my life,” he recounted. “My body swayed with the movement of the plane – then I heard the voice of the security chief from the offices in El Fasher. ‘Be a man,’ he said to me, and laughed.”

This was the start of weeks of mistreatment. During his 40-day detention, Mr Cox was beaten, given electric shocks with a cattle prod and once subjected to a mock execution.

After repeated overtures from the US and UK governments, Mr Hari – a Sudanese national granted asylum in the US – was released on 18 January, followed by Mr Cox on 1 February.

At the time, Sudanese officials told reporters that Mr Cox had been “pardoned” by President Omar al-Bashir. An official told the EFE news agency that Mr Cox had entered the country illegally, and that his intention to investigate Amnesty International claims of chemical weapons use – and thereby his “involvement in planned activities harmful to national security… has been proved”.

Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear said: “We sent Daoud and Phil to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Sudan, but we never thought that they themselves would fall victim to these horrific abuses.

“They were beaten, tortured and electrocuted, simply for being journalists. Their story from within the belly of the Sudanese security state is one of the most frightening we have ever broadcast on Channel 4 News.

Maddy Crowther from Waging Peace, a UK-based NGO campaigning for human rights in Sudan, told The Independent: “Phil Cox and Daoud Hari’s harrowing experiences should remind us of the Sudan government’s true face.

“This incident should call into question the UK’s decision to bring Sudan in from the cold, when its officials are capable of engaging in ‘strategic dialogue’ with UK officials on the one hand, and commissioning the detention, interrogation and torture of one of our citizens on the other.

“I’m grateful for Cox and Hari’s bravery in shining a light on the forgotten victims of government repression in Sudan. We need to keep shouting about the individuals still suffering similar abuse in Khartoum’s prisons and black sites.”

Mr Cox said: “Daoud and I experienced first-hand the lengths that the Sudanese government will go to stop any independent reporting on what is happening in Darfur.  

“Our time in prison gave us a terrifying insight into the brutal tactics of the Sudanese security forces, and it also revealed the arbitrary and heavy-handed way any perceived opposition or anti-government criticism is dealt with.”

The two-part film Hunted in Sudan will be broadcast on Channel 4 News on 5 and 6 April at 7pm.

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