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Sudan reimposes censorship on newspapers

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March 6, 2008 (KHARTOUM) — Sudanese authorities have reimposed daily censorship of newspapers after they published reports accusing the government of backing Chadian rebels, journalists and a security official said on Thursday.

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A Sudanese man reads a daily newspaper in Khartoum Monday July 11, 2005. (AP).

Journalists and local human rights activists criticised the move, which they said had begun nearly three weeks ago after rebels stormed the Chadian capital N’Djamena in a failed attempt to topple President Idriss Deby.

Journalists said security agents visit the newspapers every evening and take out what they deem as sensitive material. The censorship has further strained already-tense relations between the government and privately-owned newspapers.

The security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the censorship was "temporary."

Sudan eased press censorship after a new constitution put in place at the end of a two-decade civil war between the north and south in 2005 guaranteed freedom of the press.

But authorities confiscate papers sporadically and there have been reports of journalists coming under pressure over sensitive issues.

"Censorship has been re-imposed since the crisis of Chad," Mohamed Latif, a prominent writer in the privately-owned daily Al-Sudani, told Reuters. "Whenever the government is in a political predicament, it imposes censorship."

Chad accused Khartoum of backing the rebels. The Sudanese government denies this and accuses Deby of supporting rebels in the war-torn region of Darfur in western Sudan.

Authorities prevented opposition newspaper al-Rai al-Shaab from being published on February 14 for trying to print columns accusing the government of backing Chadian rebels.

Shortly afterwards, security agents summoned editors of five newspapers for questioning over articles about changes in the upper-level positions of the police force. The summons prompted street protests by dozens of journalists.

Ahmed Khalifa, editor of Al-Watan newspaper and among those summoned, said papers now risked confiscation if they go to print without government approval.

The security official said newspapers have violated a deal with the government whereby censorship stopped as long as journalists avoided publishing "false information."

"But some newspapers again started to repeat what is being said by foreign sides, like the Chad issue," he said.

Censorship would stop once the justice ministry concludes efforts to reach a deal that will prevent similar incidents in future, he added. The justice ministry was not available for comment.

Faisal ElBagir, co-founder of the group Journalists for Human Rights, said imposing censorship was unconstitutional.

"This censorship should be lifted immediately," he said. "If newspapers commit mistakes, they should take us to the courts."

(Reuters)

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