Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka released from prison

The director and four other artists were released after lawyers appealed their sentence in court

DOHA, QATAR - MARCH 13:  Director Hajooj Kuka during the Project Feedback working breakfast session on day five of Qumra, the fourth edition of the industry event by the Doha Film Institute dedicated to the development of emerging filmmakers on March 13, 2018 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images for Doha Film Institute)

Acclaimed filmmaker Hajooj Kuka and four other artists have been released from prison in Khartoum after being detained for two weeks.

The artists were sentenced to two months in prison last month after being charged with public disturbance and were each fined 5,000 Sudanese pounds ($90). They were released on Thursday after lawyers appealed their sentence.

Six other artists remain in jail and await their appeal on Monday.

In August, Kuka, along with artists Abdelrahman Mohamed, Ayman Khalafallah, Ahmed El Sadig and Dua Tareg, were staging a rehearsal at a cultural centre in the Sudanese capital when neighbours began complaining about the noise. This soon led to a fight with police officers arriving at the scene.

Kuka, who became an Academy Award judge this year, wrote on Twitter about the incident: “We got attacked during a theatre workshop in #Khartoum by Islamists instigators. The police stood by the attackers and arrested us”.

A total of 11 artists were arrested over the incident and the international film community began putting out statements for their release. On Twitter, South African film producer Steven Markovitz shared a photo of the group after they left prison. “International pressure made a difference,” he wrote.

Sudan is in the middle of a long transitional period to civilian rule after the removal of autocrat Omar Al Bashir in April 2019 amid mass demonstrations. A civilian administration is governing alongside senior military officials before elections planned for 2022.

While Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has vowed to uproot all vestiges of Al Bashir's 30-year rule, the activists and protesters whose mass street demonstrations led to the military removing the president have said that progress is too slow.

Security sector reform is crucial to the transition process given that Al Bashir used loyalist police and paramilitary group as tools of repression and enforcement and the country has dozens of laws against assembly, free speech and artistic expression.

While the artists were in jail, videos emerged that showed them chanting revolutionary slogans and singing protest songs in their cell. After his release, Kuka spoke to Vice News about the importance of protecting artists and "getting rid of all these rules that could be used against us".

He continued, “Right now, the remainders of the old regime still use these laws that exist, and [there are] folks within the police, the judiciary, the prosecution office, that still believe in the old ways.”

Kuka is behind lauded films such as Beats of the Antonov and Akasha, the latter of which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2018.