Slovene activist released from Sudanese prison

Tomo Kriznar, photo:

Tomo Kriznar is a Slovenian human rights activist who was sent to Darfur - the conflict torn western region of Sudan - as a special envoy for Slovenia's President Janez Drnovsek. There he was arrested and spent six weeks in a Sudanese prison on spying charges. Ksenija Samardzija Matul has the story:

Tomo Kriznar's arrest in Sudan was the top story in Slovenia during the summer. But what led to his arrest? He left for Sudan in January as a special envoy of President Janez Drnovsek, who had launched a campaign for peace in the war-ravaged region of Darfur. Kriznar was arrested in July after entering the country without a visa, and sentenced to two years in prison for illegal entry, espionage, and defamation. Efforts to get Kriznar out of prison were started immediately by Slovenia's President Janez Drnovsek who wrote a letter to Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir calling for the release of Tomo Kriznar.

More than a month and a half in prison - on the last day of August - the Sudanese President pardoned the human rights activist. One day after his release, Tomo Kriznar arrived at Ljubljana airport accompanied by the two men who were sent to Sudan to get him out of prison - Slovenian consul to Egypt Andrej Dernovscek and President Drnovsek's representative Hamdija Blekic. Asked by reporters how he coped with the situation in prison Kriznar said:

"I try to find something good in any situation. I try learn from such situation and so I was able find in all that something positive."

Upon his arrival in Slovenia, Kriznar said that the clemency granted by Al Bashir was a sign that the situation in Sudan was turning for the better. Kriznar explained that he had been treated well in prison:

"They did not lay violent hands on me in prison. And I dare to say that we said goodbye as friends, I am their friend."

However Tomo Kriznar wants to go back to Sudan even though he has been expelled:

"I hope to go back. I feel this deep respect for the old Nuba culture."

Kriznar stressed that he has understanding for both, the position of the rebels as well as that of the Sudanese authorities. He still sees himself as a mediator and he wants to continue to try and present Slovenia as a country that cares.

"Sudan is afraid of an invasion of foreigners and Sudan reacts the only way it knows how to react in times of globalisation - the country defends itself the way it thinks is right and that is also how we defend ourselves."

Both Slovenia's President Drnovsek and Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel were very pleased about Kriznar's release. At their respective press conferences, the two put recent differences over Kriznar's fate behind them. While Rupel stressed that Kriznar's release was a result of efforts of the ministry at all levels over the last month and a half, he also acknowledged Drnovsek's role, particularly the letter he sent to Al Bashir. According to Andrej Ster, the head of the Foreign Ministry's directorate for international law, the costs of the entire operation is estimated at less than 30,000 euros.