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Authorities Stop Journalists Protesting Censorship in Sudan

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

Westgate Mall Attack Takes Its Toll On Journalists

Two photographers take cover at Westgate Mall (CPJ/AP) 

The Saturday, September 21 attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, by Somali al Shabab militants that left over 60 dead took its toll on journalists too. Ruhila Adita-Sood of the Africa Radio Group was killed while hosting a cooking competition for children. Adita-Sood was recently married and expecting her first child.
“I have lost a dear colleague…I don’t know what to do or say. I don’t know who else we have lost today,” Kumar Kaur, a presenter for East FM was quoted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as saying.
Another Radio Africa Group employee who was also at the cooking competition with Adita-Sood was Andrew Lucheli. “We were ready to get started when suddenly we heard gunshots,” Lucheli told the Nairobi-based Star.
“The team initially thought it was thugs exchanging fire with police along the street below. A few minutes later, the sound of the gunshots intensified, drawing closer to the room they had occupied for the lavish event. What followed is a tale that will forever be etched in Andrew’s mind as the ruthless gunmen started spraying bullets at close range, with most casualties sustaining wounds on their legs,” said the Star
Foreign correspondents related the immediacy the incident and the effect the tragedy had on them. “‘Over the past two decades, I have found myself in numerous war zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. I survived bombing in Baghdad, mortar attacks and street battles in Liberia, Libya and Yemen,’ Washington Post East Africa Bureau Chief Sudarsan Raghavan wrote in a blog. ‘But what unfolded Saturday felt markedly different. The war on terrorism had hit uncomfortably close to home […] the interviews with victims felt more personal than other tragedies I have covered,'” said the CPJ
The Media Council of Kenya while congratulating the media on its responsible reporting of the attack also said journalists covering the incident were victims of trauma. “‘So many journalists have become traumatised as a result of covering this; it has not been easy for them,'” Harun Mwangi, CEO of the Media Council of Kenya was quoted by Capital FM as saying. “‘Most of the time they are forgotten but we have already set up a counselling centre for them.’ He also urged Kenyans to continue supporting the victims of the incident,” said Capital FM.
Meanwhile, Reporters without Borders (RSF) based in Paris said that al Shabab was designated as an “enemy of freedom of information” for carrying out attacks on the independent media in Somalia.

Jailed for Defamation, Liberian Editor’s Health Deteriorates

Protesting for Media Freedom (Photo courtesy

FrontPage Africa reported August 29 that the health of its imprisoned managing editor of Rodney Sieh has deteriorated after he was rushed to JKF Memorial Hospital two days before. Sieh began a hunger strike last week protesting a Supreme Court sentence detaining him pending the payment of US$ 1.6 million as damages to former agriculture minister Chris Toe.
The Monrovia-based FrontPage Africa said family members, employees of the newspaper and head of the Press Union of Liberia had been told by the police they could not visit him at the emergency section of the hospital without permission of the Ministry of Justice. Sieh had reportedly felt feverish, vomited and fainted in his cell, and complained of weakness to relatives.  
“We are troubled that Rodney Sieh’s health has deteriorated during his imprisonment and we hold the government of Liberia responsible for his well-being,” said the New York-based Committee for Protecting Journalists‘ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita.
“The excessive libel damages imposed on Sieh for reporting the findings of a government inquiry on corruption, his jailing and the closure of an important independent newspaper, are a blow to press freedom and the fight against corruption in Liberia,” CPJ’s August 23 statement continued.
The detention pending the payment of damages has been described by media watchdogs as “disproportionate” and “criminalising freedom of expression.” Barbara Trionfi, International Press Institute’s press freedom manager was quoted by FrontPage Africa: “We consider the damages and bond exorbitant and disproportionate in a country where the gross national income per person is US$370. But even worse, by jailing Mr Sieh and ordering his newspaper closed, the courts are denying him the means to pay any judgment and denying the Liberian population a valued source of information.”
Significantly, Liberia’s head of state is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is a co-winner 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with two others. “It is shocking that a journalist is in prison because of his work in a country whose president is a Nobel peace laureate, one who moreover gave a firm undertaking to support press freedom by signing the Declaration of Table Mountain in 2007… [Sieh’s] imprisonment had highlighted the urgency of completing the decriminalization of media offences by imposing ceilings on damages awards…,” said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).
FrontPage Africa reported on its website (which remains open despite the court ordering the closure of both the print and online editions) that Toe had been forced to resign following revelations of corruption. “Sieh has insisted that his newspaper’s reporting on the alleged misuse of ministry funds was accurate and he has refused to apologise to the former minister,” adding that Sieh planned to remain in jail and his lawyers planned to appeal to Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
FrontPage Africa also warned the Liberian government in an editorial not to politicise what was purely a legal matter in the Sieh case. “We therefore caution the government to take a measurable distance, as any attempt to continue on this path will be counterproductive.”
Following a meeting in Gambia in November 2010, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights passed Resolution 169 to decriminalise defamation.