In December 2016, freelance journalist Phil Cox and Darfuri author Daoud Hari were abducted while travelling in Sudan to film an investigation into human rights abuses.
Channel 4 News commissioned the two independent filmmakers, following extensive risk assessment and high risk protocols, to report on the impact of illegal migration through Sudan and investigate allegations of Sudanese government attacks on civilians in Darfur using chemical weapons.
The Sudanese government rarely issues journalist visas to the international media and restricts all access to Darfur, so the two men crossed into the country from Chad hoping to reach the remote mountain region of Jebel Marra.
While they were in Darfur, the government became aware of their presence. The team were told by rebel escorts that they were being tracked and that a six-figure bounty had been issued for their capture.
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.
They were then transferred to the Sudanese Government authorities and detained in the notorious Kobar Prison, Khartoum. On the flight from El Fasher to Khartoum, men threatened to throw Cox off the plane. This was the start of weeks of mistreatment.
The two journalists were held separately and were interrogated, beaten and tortured. During Cox’s 40-day detention, he was also subjected to a mock execution.
Following concerted diplomatic intervention by the UK and US governments, Hari was released on 18 January 2017, followed by Cox’s release on 1 February 2017.
Despite having all their camera equipment confiscated by the militia in Darfur, Cox managed to smuggle out footage on a memory card.
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.
“I would like to pay tribute to Phil and Daoud, as well as to those who helped them inside prison, and to the many people in the FCO led by Minister Tobias Ellwood and the UK Ambassador in Sudan Michael Aron, as well as the US State Department. Their tireless efforts saw them released and brought home to their loved ones.”
Filmmaker Phil 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 filmmakers’ initial commission was also supported by US online platform Field of Vision.
‘Hunted in Sudan’ will be broadcast on Channel 4 News on 5 & 6 April at 7pm.