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AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

Curbing press freedom is utterly unacceptable

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Amnesty International today condemned the confiscation of the 28 June edition and parts of the 29 June edition of the Sudanese independent daily Al-Sahafa by the country’s security forces.

"The Sudanese government and the National Security Agency must put an end to the confiscation or suspension of local newspapers. The intimidation and harassment of journalists with the attempt of restricting the freedom of the press must end," Amnesty International said.

On the night of 27 June, members of the security forces seized around 20,000 copies of Al-Sahafa. The move came in response to an opinion piece published a few days earlier at the occasion of the anniversary of the 30 June 1989 coup d’Etat in which the current government seized power.

Journalist Salah El Din Awooda who wrote the opinion piece was summoned by security forces and warned not to criticise the government. A couple of days later, security forces ordered Al-Sahafa to remove a page containing three articles from their Sunday edition. After the wrong page was removed, security forces seized nearly 16,000 copies of parts of the paper. The articles deemed critical of the government by security forces were written by Al Haj Warraq, one of the managers of the paper, Adil El Baz, its Chief Editor and one of the daughters of Ummah party leader Sadiq El Mahdi.

Newspapers’ editors in Sudan frequently complain that members of the security forces waits until printing is completed to seize copies in order to impose an extra financial burden on the paper. The authorities also seized copies of Al Sahafa on 6 May which published a statement by the Foreign Affairs Minister on external interference in Darfur which he later withdrew.

"The government’s harassment of the Sudanese press undermines human rights. The smothering of freedom of expression will not help to bring a sustainable peace in Sudan," Amnesty International said.

Despite censorship being officially abolished in December 2001, the Sudanese security forces have since confiscated or ordered the closure of several publications while arresting many journalists.

On 3 May Yusuf al-Beshir Musa, aged 35, correspondent of Al-Sahafa in Nyala, South Darfur, was arrested by security forces for writing an article about the destruction of Sudan air force planes and helicopters in El Fasher airport by the Sudan Liberation Army (an armed opposition group created in Darfur in February 2003 by members of sedentary groups to protest the lack of protection and the underdevelopment of the region).

Musa, who has an amputated leg, was held incommunicado for three days at the security forces’ offices in Nyala and was reportedly beaten with sticks on his body and the sole of his foot. On 6 May he was allowed to see a doctor, whose diagnosis described the marks of beatings on his buttocks and chest. He was detained in Nyala General Prison charged with "spreading false information against the state" and served with a six-month detention order under Article 26 of the 1998 Emergency Act. On 24 May, he was released. His family was not allowed to visit him during his detention. A complaint about his reported torture was lodged at the office of the Sudan Attorney-General.

"Torture and imprisonment of journalists, suspension and confiscation of newspapers for fulfilling their duty to report important events, or to freely express their opinions is utterly unacceptable," Amnesty International said.

The organization also called for all restrictions and "red lines" limiting freedom of expression and for the suspension of some newspapers to be lifted immediately.

Background

Other recent attempts by the Sudanese authorities to clampdown on the press include:

Faisal al-Bagir, correspondent of Reporters Without Borders in Sudan, was arrested and interrogated for two hours by the security forces on 8 June. He was asked about his journalistic and human rights activities and political opinions upon his return from a workshop in Greece about the future of the media in Iraq.

Nhial Bol, the managing editor of the Khartoum Monitor, was detained by the police after a complaint by the Ministry of Awqaf (Endowments) on 6 May against it for publishing three articles said to be insulting to Islam. According to the Khartoum Monitor, the articles were about the destruction of a church, an article by the Chairman of the Christian Democratic Party entitled "Is Islam afraid of Christianity?" calling for coexistence, and an article about merissa, a traditional beer, which stated that Islam allowed such drinks. Nhial Bol was released the following day. He complained that he had been forced to stand facing the wall for five hours.

On 8 May security forces stormed the Khartoum Monitor newspaper and shut it down. Its assets were seized because of its failure to pay a fine of 15 million Sudanese pounds ($6,000) for an article alleging slavery was practised in Sudan. Sudan’s Criminal Court in Khartoum North, hearing the complaint brought by the Ministry of Awqaf, found the Khartoum Monitor guilty of "propagating slavery", "abusing Islam" by misinterpreting the Qur’an, and "endangering Sudanese unity" on 10 May . The Court imposed a two-month suspension and a fine of LS500,000 ($200) on the newspaper and a fine of LS1 million ($400) or a four-month prison sentence on Nhial Bol. Nhial Bol was taken to Dabak Prison in Khartoum North and given forced labour but was released the following day when his personal fine was paid. The Khartoum Monitor remains closed.

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Kind regards,

The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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