May 19, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese presidency on Monday delivered a firm warning to media outlets on its coverage of certain items that poses a danger to national security and the country as a whole.
- Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir addresses soldiers in the capital, Khartoum, on 16 March 2009 (Photo: Reuters)
The unusual statement carrying a veiled threat noted that "some of the media and press outlets are repeatedly dealing with national security, military affairs and justice issues in a negative and destructive manner that subjects the safety of the nation to harm and weakens its cohesion and crumbles its texture".
"This is considered a breach of the red line that is held by all keen and responsible countries to prevent negligence and breaches of security, safety and national immunity," the presidency statement reads.
"They also handled in a negative and exaggerative [way] people and individuals who are being tried in the media without verifying via documents or evidence which is considered defamatory and an incorrect preemption causing effects that press and media must refrain from its events".
"Therefore, the presidency and with a definite interest to preserve the security of the homeland and the cohesion of its armed and regular forces and the prestige of the judicial organs and the protection of the rights of society members from being taken by suspicions and so that nation is not exposed to any damage or demolition of the entity and so that the state proceeds in the legal and constitutional path that was endorsed by competent legal experts, the presidency announces its warning as mentioned above and affirms at the same time that all legal and constitutional avenues are afforded away from media coverage".
The statement did not detail the consequences the media might face if it breaches the directive nor specifically outline the subjects that it should avoid.
In 2012, president Omer Hassan al-Bashir blasted newspapers which he said have endangered national security and insulted the army in what they published. He also defended suspension of newspapers and other measures taken against them.
“We are now fighting and we have an army battling. Any [negative] comments on the spirits of the armed forces or attacking the armed forces or endangering national security; no state accepts prejudice to its national security,” Bashir told the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV in an interview.
Last week, the head of the opposition National Umma Party (NUP) al-Sadiq al-Mahdi was arrested by Sudanese security and charged on several counts including undermining the constitutional order and opposing the regime through force.
According to Sudan’s penal code, al-Mahdi could face the death sentence or life in prison if convicted.
Al-Mahdi was questioned before state security prosecutors last Thursday regarding remarks he made accusing the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of committing serious abuses in conflict zones in Darfur and Kordofan including rape as well as looting and burning villages.
This was in response to a criminal complaint filed by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). Sudanese officials say the RSF is part of the NISS but operationally follows the army.
The RSF militia, which is widely known as the Janjaweed militias, were originally mobilized by the Sudanese government to quell the insurgency that broke out in Sudan’s western region of Darfur in 2003.
The militia was activated and restructured again in August last year under the command of NISS to fight rebel groups in Darfur region, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states following joint attacks by Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebels in North and South Kordofan in April 2013.
The African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative (JSR) for Darfur, Mohamed Ibn Chambas himself accused these forces of carrying attacks on communities, particularly in South Darfur.
In a briefing before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last month, he said that a number of villages have been looted, destroyed and their populations displaced.
Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations also gave an example of a joint attack by the Sudanese army last February on an area known as Um-Gunya, located some 50 kilometers southeast of South Darfur capital city of Nyala.
Ladsous said that, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between 40,000 and 50,000 civilians were forced to flee the area.
These forces were blamed in February by North Kordofan government of looting commercial markets and killing a merchant in the capital town El-Obeid leading to massive protests across the city.
The state governor Ahmed Haroun, announced at the time that his government made the necessary arrangements to drive them out from the state within 72 hours.
CONDEMNATION FOR MAHDI’S ARREST
Today, the political parties that have agreed to participate in the national dialogue called for earlier this year by president Bashir met today to discuss the arrest of al-Mahdi and its impact on the political process.
A statement issued by the parties, including the Popular Congress Party (PCP) and Reform Now Party (RNP) said that their meeting reviewed the dangerous and negative development in the dialogue environment by arresting and directing criminal proceedings against al-Mahdi whom they described as one of the basic components of the national dialogue.
The participants expressed rejection and displeasure at the "abusive" move that was conducted in a way that confirms that the government has backtracked on its commitment to freedoms and creating a climate for dialogue.
They called for his immediate release and dismissing the charges but fell short of announcing a boycott of the dialogue similar to the NUP decision in the wake of al-Mahdi’s arrest.
Last January, the Sudanese president called on political parties and armed groups to engage in a national dialogue to discuss four issues, including ending the civil war, allowing political freedoms, fighting against poverty and revitalizing national identity.
He also held a political roundtable in Khartoum last month with the participation of 83 political parties.
Last month, Bashir also instructed authorities in the states and localities across Sudan to enable political parties to carry out their activities inside and outside their headquarters without restrictions except those dictated by the law.
The Sudanese president also pledged to enhance press freedom so that it can play its role in the success of the national dialogue unconditionally as long they abide by the norms of the profession.
Political detainees who have not been found to be involved in criminal acts will be released, Bashir added.
But al-Mahdi’s arrest and the statement issued by presidency today casts doubts over how far the national dialogue process can go.
It also brings to light the powerful role played by the NISS which in many instances appear to override the government’s stated policy or even promises made by the president.
In April, the RNP which is chaired by a leading dissident from the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) Ghazi Salah al-Deen al-Attabani, announced that the NISS prevented the party from holding a seminar at the Omdurman Ahlia University (OAU) despite obtaining prior permission and in spite of Bashir’s directives.
The NCP blamed al-Mahdi for his arrest stressing that measures taken at him are purely judicial and not political or security related.
The former prime Minister also came under fire from Sudanese lawmakers who said his remarks on RSF amount to treason and backstabbing the nation.
This did not prevent officials including leading NCP figure Mustafa Osman Ismail from describing al-Mahdi’s arrest as "regrettable", according to local media.
Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute, told Agence France Presse (AFP) that al-Mahdi’s detention reflects a power play by elements of the state security service who "don’t care" about the impact on the dialogue.
"The political system in Sudan is the rule of the military and the security," Gizouli told AFP.
"Whatever changes happen in Khartoum, the first victims of such change would be the security establishment," he said.
An opposition politician, who asked AFP not to be identified, also referred to purported divisions in the NCP and said: "By arresting Sadiq, that would be a very good way of stopping the dialogue."
There are also suggestions that the PCP leader al-Turabi would not want to share power with al-Mahdi if the dialogue produced a new government, and that Mahdi himself could benefit from "a revival of his image" by being arrested, the politician said.
On its Monday edition, the pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi London-based newspaper said in its editorial titled "Sudan - repression in the north and blockage in the south" that observers believe that the NISS thinks it’s the strongest element in the government.
The newspaper, which has generally been supportive of Khartoum in the past, said that the security apparatus had no problem embarrassing the president and undermining his initiative.
"But Bashir’s regime, which succeeded in suppressing the Sudanese Spring with iron and fire, owes its existence to these agencies and cannot impose the rule of law on them which he was the first to violate".
"A weak president, a divided ruling party, fragmented opposition and people left to be the victim of a merciless security," the editorial said.
Yesterday, the NISS director Mohamed Atta Abbas al-Moula ordered three RSF brigades to deploy around the capital Khartoum and remain in a 100% state of readiness.
The Khartoum state police force on its end also announced that its forces elevated their degree of readiness to 100%.
No explanation was given for these decisions.
AU EXPRESSES CONCERN
The Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union (AU) Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, issued a statement on Monday expressing "serious concern over the recent developments in Sudan as these have the potential of negatively impacting on the national dialogue process".
"The Chairperson of the Commission underscores the importance of the national dialogue process for the future of Sudan, and appeals to all the parties concerned to desist from any actions that could undermine its smooth conduct. In this regard, she wishes to express The Chairperson of the Commission reiterates the AU’s continued commitment to assist Sudan, through the AUHIP, in its pursuit of a new political dispensation".
She recall her statement of 7 April 2014, through which she commended Sudan for commencing preparations on the comprehensive and holistic national dialogue amongst the Sudanese stakeholders.
The chairman of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) Thabo Mbeki told reporters yesterday that he brought up the issue of al-Mahdi’s arrest during his meeting with Sudan’s 1st VP Bakri Hassan Saleh.