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Sudan frees AFP, Reuters reporters detained covering protests

January 22, 2018

Sudan on Monday freed Agence France-Presse’s reporter in Khartoum, Abdelmoneim Abu Idris Ali, and a Reuters journalist who were arrested last week while covering protests.

Idris Ali, a 51-year-old Sudanese national who has worked for AFP in Khartoum for nearly a decade, was covering the protests on Wednesday in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, where riot police broke up a demonstration of about 200 protesters against rising food prices.

He had been arrested along with a journalist from international news agency Reuters and a third colleague.

“I am free and so are the other journalists,” Idris Ali said soon after his release.

“I’m at home now with my family. During our detention we were treated well,” he said, adding that they were held at a detention centre in Khartoum.

Several protesters were also reported to have been detained at the demonstration.

Sporadic protests erupted across Sudan earlier this month after prices of food, notably bread, soared following a jump in the cost of flour due to a shortage of wheat.

Fifteen journalists were detained while covering protests in Khartoum and Omdurman, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said, including Idris Ali. All of them were Sudanese citizens.

Several journalists were released within hours after they were detained, according to RSF.

Three more — Rishan Oshi, Imtinan al-Radi and Magdi al-Agab — were released on Sunday, one of them told AFP.

Authorities said Idris Ali would be released within hours after he was detained on Wednesday.

During their detention he and his colleagues were not allowed contact with their families or employers.

Authorities provided no explanation for their detention.

While welcoming the release of the three journalists on Monday, AFP chief executive Emmanuel Hoog called on authorities in Khartoum to “create the conditions for journalists to be able to practice their profession freely and peacefully in Sudan.”

– Media restrictions –

Global media rights groups as well as Washington had condemned the detentions and called for the journalists’ quick release.

“The (Sudanese) authorities have a duty to guarantee the safety of journalists rather than target them,” RSF said Friday.

Calling for their swift release, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: “We condemn the harassment, arbitrary detention and attacks on journalists in Sudan who are doing their jobs and exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression.”

Sudan expressed its “regret” at these condemnations, insisting the country enjoyed freedom of press.

“Sudan enjoys wide media freedom with more than 20 political journals published daily that express various views independently,” the foreign ministry said Sunday.

Media in Sudan are frequently targeted for their reporting.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Sudan 174th out of 180 countries in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Sudanese security agents had confiscated entire print runs of some newspapers that criticised the authorities for the rise in bread prices.

Protests erupted as bread prices soared after the cost of flour surged to 450 Sudanese pounds ($25) for a 50-kilo (110-pound) sack from 167 pounds.

There were also sporadic protests in late 2016 after the government cut fuel subsidies.

The authorities cracked down on those protests in an attempt to prevent a repeat of deadly unrest that followed an earlier round of subsidy cuts in 2013.

Rights groups say dozens of people were killed in 2013 when security forces crushed large street demonstrations, drawing international condemnation.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.