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Authorities Stop Journalists Protesting Censorship in Sudan

October 11, 2013
Protests in Sudan Against Withdrawal of Subsidy(

In less than two weeks, the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism will honour this year’s winner, Sudanese newspaper columnist and media trainer, Faisal Mohamed Salih, at a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington DC. But over the past month, the little space for media freedom in his country has been curtailed further by newspapers arbitrarily shut, the internet temporarily blocked and journalists objecting to the outrage banned from holding protest rallies.
The New York Times on September 30 quoted Salih as saying “The government wanted a total blackout on events in Sudan by local and international media.” 

The latest surge in stifling media freedom is associated with Khartoum’s move to withdraw a government subsidy on petroleum products. Although there has been much publicity given to the government crackdown on the media following clashes between the protesting public and government authorities that left 33 people dead and 700 detained, the restrictions began earlier, in anticipation of public dissent.
On September 19, three days before the demonstrations, the day’s edition of three newspapers – Al-Ayam, Al-Jareedaand Al-Intibaha – were seized by the feared secret police of President Omar Al-Bashir, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).
“On 18 September, the day before the raids, the NISS told some media by phone not to publish any reports about the government’s withdrawal of subsidies for certain basic commodities. The seizure of the three newspaper issues may have been prompted by a failure to comply with this order,” said the Paris-based media freedom monitor Reporters without Borders (RSF).
After the clashes on the 22nd, restrictions intensified. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that the Sudanese government had tried to portray the demonstrations as acts of vandalism and newspaper editors were asked by authorities to refrain from publishing news that would “disturb the public.” CPJ went on to say that “On Monday (September 30), Sudanese officials confirmed the order on state television, saying that editors had agreed to self-censor in an attempt to not cover news that ‘disturbed the public’ or ‘caused sedition.'”
“‘We did not follow their directions literally,’ said Al-Sudani’s editor, Diaa Bilal. ‘The paper criticised the lifting of subsidies,'” reported the New York Times.
Dia Bilaal was confiscated for one day and suspended for two. But number of newspapers closed indefinitely including the Al-Intibaha, whose September 19 editions were confiscated by the NISS (please see above). CPJ said it was Sudan’s most popular newspaper run by al Bashir’s uncle.
CPJ and RSF also reported that foreign news networks, including the Dubai-based Al-Arabya and the British Sky News were closed indefinitely. CPJ said, “A Sudanese official blamed the networks’ news coverage for the shutdown, saying the outlets were ‘trying to manufacture an Arab Spring in Sudan.'”
Meanwhile, the move that received most amount of publicity – the temporary shut down of the internet occurred on September 25. Although the service was restored, it was after 24 hours.
There were also a number of acts of intimidation. RSFsaid on September 25, “[t]he NISS summoned the editors of the main newspapers to its headquarters and forbade them to publish any information about the protests that did not come from government sources.” CPJ also said Amal Habani, a reporter for the online website Al-Taghyeer(Change) was arrested and detained. CPJ said, “Authorities should release Amal Habani immediately or disclose the charges against her.”
CPJ and RSF said that journalists had resigned in protest at the imposition of censorship and on September 28, the Sudanese Journalists Network had asked around 400 members in its network to suspend work. The strike came to an end the next day.
On October 7, the Sudan Tribunereported that authorities had tried to prevent journalists and trade unionists of the National Umma Party from holding a protest in Omdurman. Although the police and security services had barred journalists from entering the NUP premises, some journalists had managed to slip in and held up banners demanding lifting of media restrictions.
“They also demanded the government to halt what they called the unfair campaign on newspapers and journalists, calling on journalists and advocacy groups and international human rights organisations to campaign against the restrictions and intimidations (sic) on journalists in Sudan,” the Tribune reported.
“President Bashir’s use of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) to suppress media coverage is allowing the police to deploy deadly force against the protesters with complete impunity. It also shows his vulnerability in the face of the biggest demonstrations since he came to power 24 years ago. We urge the Sudanese government to put an end to these censorship measures, to protect journalists and to guarantee access to independent sources of information in order to encourage dialogue,” said RSF
Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.