"In the early morning of 24 December 2016, my friend Daoud and I lay side by side on a blanket, our legs chained at the ankles, secured with heavy padlocks. The sun beat down on the desert. We pleaded with our captors to be moved to the shade, but they ignored us. It was not how I had imagined spending Christmas Eve."
British journalist Phil Cox narrated this after his journey. He, along with his colleague Daoud Hari, crossed the borders of Sudan in 2016. The duo had an aim of reporting about the people in Darfur region but, something unfortunate happened.
As I was researching about the entire episode, I came across this narration by Phil himself. Let's unveil all the revelations and his experience one by one.
During their journey, they learned that the Sudanese government was tracking them. Not just this, the worst thing was they were the "two western journalists" who had a price placed on their heads. The bounty was $250,000 with the contract of "capture or kill."
"After 16 days of relentlessly being hunted, of hiding under trees and in dusty wadis, we were about to enter the Jebel Marra. Before we set off, I slipped all the footage I had recorded so far, which was stored on a small memory card, into my left sock."
But less they knew, that the danger ahead was waiting for them.
After traveling for more than an hour, a burst of lights and gunfire erupted in front of them and they were captured by the militia in Darfur. Bound in chains and blindfolded, they were driven for about four hours in an escort of militia cars.
"It is hard to describe being chained up beneath the desert sun. Your face and hands slowly burn. Your tongue starts to swell and the blood inside your head pounds like a hammer," Phil narrated to The Guardian.
Days passed, they were beaten up and tortured. One day, Phil saw the captors fiddling with his camera. With an offering of teaching them to use it, Phil inserted a memory card and took pictures of his captors. He then handed over the camera to them and covertly pressed the video button.
"I decided it was time to hide the memory card in my sock somewhere much safer. I wrapped the penny-sized card in a piece of black plastic torn from a bag that had blown across the desert; then I secreted it up my anus. It was uncomfortable but manageable. I told Daoud what I had done. He just looked at me and shook his head," he described.
After a week, the guards informed that their commander has arrived. "We both knew this was a turning point. We were told that Daoud was to be set free and I would be handed over to government soldiers," he recalled.
But it all just didn't end in the desert. As they were then taken to the Sudanese Government authorities, who arrested them in the notorious Kober Prison, Khartoum.
Writing in The Guardian, Phil described how on the flight from El Fasher to Khartoum, men threatened to throw him off the plane.
"The plane was taxiing, and I started to shout, to beg for my life," he recalled. "My body swayed with the movement of the plane – then I heard the voice of the security chief from the offices in El Fasher. 'Be a man,' he said to me, and laughed."
"I told him the truth, but often he would shake his head. "I cannot accept that," he would reply, and then leave the room. When he left, I would be beaten. Then they started using a cattle prod on my back. It was administered by one man. In my head, I called him the "Terror Man". He seemed to relish being able to hit, electrocute and asphyxiate me," he recalled speaking about his 40 days detention period.
After 40 days in jail, he was taken back to the torture center, where they made him kneel in a stress position for two hours. "I was then told to sign, like a naughty schoolboy, a typed piece of paper that simply said: "I promise I will never enter Sudan illegally again."
They then allowed him to call his family.
According to Independent, the news commissioned Mr. Cox and Mr. Hari to report on the impact of illegal migration through Sudan and investigate allegations of Sudanese government attacks on civilians in Darfur using chemical weapons.
"Only when I returned to London did I realize the full scale of the efforts that had been made to get Daoud and me out of prison. Although they were principally led by my producer Giovanna and Channel 4 news. I realized, that my family had undergone a traumatic experience and lived through it with immense resilience. There was a lot of making up to do," he added.
In the end, he concluded by sharing his thoughts about the other men struggling to survive in the cells of Kober Prison. "Their fate and that of their compatriots must not be forgotten."