2011 was a bleak year for journalism in Sudan. More than 20 newspapers were closed or suspended, at least 10 journalists were detained and tortured, and up to 12 reporters and other media contributors received court summonses or were subject to judicial investigations.
Newspaper confiscations, targeting individual journalists and publications through contrived legal proceedings and politicizing charges remained an ongoing and systematic tactic employed by the authorities to silence journalists.
The Transitional National Constitution of Sudan for the year 2005 guarantees all rights contained in international treaties and conventions, such as the right to freedom of the press and freedom of opinion and expression and the right of the citizen to receive and disseminate information, publications and access to the press without prejudice to order, safety and public morals.
The law also stipulated, as stated by Article 39 of the Constitution, that the state guarantees the freedom of the press as regulated by law in a democratic society, whereas all media facilities are bound by the morality of the profession, and should not stir up religious, ethnic, racial or cultural hatred or advocacy of violence or war.
Iron Fist law
The government of Sudan, however, shelved all provisions of the 2005 law by adopting a new Press and Publications Law in 2009.
The new law, which governs and regulates the publication of newspapers in Sudan, sharply contradicts with the international standards of freedom of expression, and with Sudan's obligations under international law.
The Law includes articles that impose strict state control over the press. Article 22, in particular, requires every newspaper to obtain permission for publication from the National Council for Press and Publications and requires that it annually reapply for approval.
The Law also contradicts with the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of Sudan for the year 2005. Articles 27.2 and 28-c/d/o approve prior gag, which is a serious limitation to the freedom of the press, opinion and expression.
All press materials that are contrary to the opinion of the government or negatively criticise government practices are heavily censored by security officers.
The Law does not include clear mechanisms for the protection of journalists nor guarantees to ensure freedom of information.
Climax of media repression
The Sudanese government practices against the press reached their peak in 2011 by implementing the worst excesses of suppression of media freedom and performing all forms of repression against the freedom of the press and the right of expression.
Such practices included closure and confiscation of newspapers and websites, harassment, detention and torture of female/male journalists, detaining journalists without court orders, threatening letters, imposing hard licensing system and strict censorship, blocking advertising, and tapping on end-users.
The Sudanese authorities also withheld information on government performance, a procedure that represents one of the political constraints hindering the freedom of the press in Sudan.
Topics that address issues related to Darfur, Southern Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, the dams, the forced displacement of people in Northern Sudan, students’ violence, the privatisation of the state-owned Al-Jazeera agricultural project, corruption, poor services, the press and publications law, violations of human rights, health, police violence in the resolution of demonstrations, educational issues, curriculum and textbooks, displaced persons and refugees, the International Criminal Court, prison conditions, violations of the security and intelligence forces, torture, censorship of newspapers, as well as news in relation with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) were all red lines that media outlets should not cross.
Writings critical of the ruling party (the National Congress) are also strictly prohibited.
Authorities ordered the closure of the Arabic-language daily Al-Jarida on September 27th with no reason given for the decision.
The National Press Council (NPC), which regulates the print media, ordered the suspension of six sports newspapers – Habib Al-Balad, Al-Moshahid, Al-Zaeem, Supper, Al-Mireekh and Aalum Al-Nigoom – on September 10th for an indefinite period for alleged unprofessionalism and administrative errors. The Council accused them of writing negative articles and publishing false information “damaging the country’s security and reputation.”
Al-Midan, a tri-weekly published by the Communist Party of Sudan, was often harassed by the security forces. In repeated acts of censorship, copies of three of its issues were seized in September (on 4, 6 and 8th of September), while the Arabic-language daily Al-Sahafa was prevented from publishing on September 8th.
Al-Jazeera reporter Osama Said Ahmed was physically attacked by members of the security forces on September 7, while covering clashes in Al-Damazeen, the capital of Blue Nile state.
A female reporter, Tagwa Ahmed, was roughed up by the security forces while covering the events from a military hospital.
The authorities have also banned the media from publishing anything about the SPLM-N and have imposed a news blackout on the situation in both Blue Nile state and South Kordofan.
The NPC announced on July 8th, the eve of South Sudan’s independence, that it was withdrawing the licenses of six newspapers published in the North on the grounds that were partially owned by South Sudan citizens.
Radio Dabanga is the only station that specializes in covering the situation in Darfur, where there are allegations of ethnic genocide. It broadcasts on the short wave from the Netherlands. It is not legally recognized by the Sudanese authorities, and its contributor lacks a press card and an official recognition of his status as a journalist.
Abuzar Ali Al-Amin, the deputy editor of the now closed daily Rai Al-Shaab, was finally released on bail on August 22nd, but deplores the failure to dismiss the new charges that were brought against him in June. Amin is still facing a possible death sentence on charges in connection with articles he wrote and with a security official’s claim that he was attacked by Amin at the time of his arrest in May 2010, when Amin was tortured.
All copies of the Arabic-language daily Al-Jarida were confiscated from 20 to 22 August, and its staff was harassed. Editor Saadeldin Ibrahim, who was fined twice, and managing editor Hashim Hussain, were summoned for interrogation by security officials, who threatened to close the newspaper if it did not change its tune. The newspaper is accused of being too close to the staff of Ajras Al-Hurriya, a newspaper that was closed down on July 8th, and of employing its former journalists.
NISS officers confiscated all the copies of the next two issues of the Arabic-language daily Al-Ahdath from the printers on August 7th. The newspaper had been publishing a series of articles entitled “The days of Carlos in Khartoum” about a Venezuelan terrorist known as “Carlos the Jackal” who was captured in Sudan in 1994.
Khalid Ibrahim Ewaiss, a writer and political activist who works as a journalist for Al-Arabiya, was detained on July 8th after participating in a political protest. He was questioned and handed over to the police, who warned him that the security forces had filed complaints against him. He was released on bail and told he could not leave the country but has not so far been formally charged.
Seven journalists and media contributors are due to be tried or are still the subject of judicial investigations for reporting human rights activist Safia Ishag’s torture and rape by security personnel. Faisal Mohamed Salih, Babikir Omer Al-Garrai, Abdalla Al-Shaik, Mohamed Latif, Faiz Al-Selaik, Mohamed Osman and Dr. Nahid Al-Hassan are liable to be prosecuted under the 1991 Criminal Code and the 1999 Press Act on charges of defaming and spreading false information about the security forces, which are protected by the National Security Act.
Two female journalists, Amal Habani and Fatima Ghazali, were already given one-month jail sentences for the same reason. Both were released after 48 hours after bail was paid by their colleagues. Habani’s editor, Saadeldin Ibrahim, was also fined. This campaign of harassment and prosecutions is aimed at deterring journalists from reporting human rights violations by the security forces.
Mohamed Osman, the head of the Khartoum bureau of the English-language newspaper The Citizen, and Nahid Al-Hassan, an activist and contributor to Ajras al-Hurriya and Al-Ayaam, were investigated and Al-Hassan received a summons for July 6th.
Eritrean journalist and editorial writer Jamal Osman Hamad got arrested on October 24th for unknown reasons in Khartoum in less than a week after an official visit to Sudan by the Eritrean President. Hamad, who runs the opposition website www.adoulis.com, was held at an unknown location in the capital. His mobile phone has been switched off since his arrest and none of his colleagues or members of his family have been able to obtain any news of him. Hamad has worked in Sudan for a number of years and is known for his criticism of the Eritrean regime and for his articles on the political situation in the Horn of Africa.
On December 25th, the Security authorities arrested journalist Khalid Ahmed of Sudan newspaper, while he was covering student demonstrations at the University of Khartoum, and took him to a security office in the vicinity of the university. During two hours of detention, the security forces took his camera by force, and wiped all photos documenting violations of the brutal police practices against the unarmed students. They forced him to provide personal information.
The Commission on Security and Defense of the National Council prevented journalist Ahmed Hamdan of Al-Ahdath newspaper from performing his professional duty on the media coverage of Al-huda prison in Omdurman. In a degrading manner, the security forces prevented him from taking the bus that was carrying an official delegation heading to prison - a blatant interference, and an obvious insult to the press, when preventing the press and journalists from performing their professional duties.
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