Peers of Sudan filmmaker Hajooj Kuka, jailed for ‘public nuisance,’ urge release

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Film industry professionals have called for the release of five Sudanese artists, including prize-winning filmmaker Hajooj Kuka, after they were sentenced to two months in prison for causing a “public nuisance.”

Filmmaker Kuka was sentenced on Thursday, along with four fellow artists belonging to the “Civic Lab” collective after being convicted on the charge, according to their lawyer.

The collective was formed in the wake of – and inspired by – mass protests that last year brought down autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

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Steven Markowitz, who produced Kuka’s recent film “aKasha” – shown at the Venice film festival – took to Twitter to condemn what he called “fake charges.”

“Write 2 SudanEmbassy in yr country for their release,” Markowitz urged.

Cameron Bailey, the artistic director and co-head of the Toronto International Film Festival, said “Hajooj Kuka is an exceptional filmmaker... now he’s been jailed in Sudan. We need to make some noise about it.”

Another Kuka film, “Beats of the Antonov,” won the People’s Choice Documentary Award at the 2014 Toronto film festival, and the Sudanese filmmaker was recently invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body responsible for the Oscars.

“Beats of the Antonov” features the music and dancing of people in Sudan’s Nuba mountains, a long marginalized area that was repeatedly bombed by Bashir’s regime with Antonov planes during the 1983-2005 civil war and again for much of the last decade.

Lawyer Othman al-Basri said that Kuka and the four other artists were sentenced to two months in jail and a fine of 5,000 Sudanese pounds ($90) by a court in the central district of Khartoum.

Kuka had in August said on Twitter that he and others were “attacked during a theater workshop in #khartoum by islamists instigators. The police stood by the attackers and arrested us.”

Sudan is undergoing a precarious political transition under a joint civilian-military government that was formed on the back of months of protests following Bashir’s ouster in April last year.

Bashir had come to power in an Islamist backed coup in 1989.

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