Sudan filmmaker jailed for 'public nuisance' released

Khartoum (AFP) –

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Prize-winning Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka, who was sentenced to two months in prison for causing a "public nuisance", was released by a Khartoum court on Thursday, along with four other artists.

"Hajooj Kuka, Doaa Tarig... and three other people were released by the appellate court," their lawyer Othman al-Basri told AFP.

Kuka, along with four fellow artists belonging to the "Civic Lab" collective, were in Septembre sentenced to two months in jail and a fine of 5,000 Sudanese pounds ($90) for causing a "public nuisance" and breaking a curfew imposed over the novel coronavirus.

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

According to Sudanese activist Tahani Abbas, police arrested the eleven artists on August 10 while they were rehearsing a play following a complaint from neighbours.

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".

Basri said the cases of the six other artists will be reviewed on Monday.

Steven Markowitz, who produced Kuka's recent film "aKasha" -- shown at the Venice film festival -- took to Twitter to praise the decision.

"Great news!! Hajooj and the four artists have just been released... International pressure made a difference," he wrote.

"There are still six artists in jail pending appeal and many more people who have been arbitrarily detained in Sudan."

Markowitz had condemned what he called the "fake charges" against the artists, urging supporters to lobby for their release.

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.

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.