May 21, 2014 (KHARTOUM) - The Sudanese government will establish a special commission to examine news stories related to corruption before its publication, the minister of information Ahmed Bilal Osman announced on Wednesday.
- Sudanese minister for culture and information Ahmed Bilal Osman (ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images)
Osman said the purpose of this commission is not to censor the media but to verify the accuracy of its information, stressing that unfounded allegations of corruption leveled against public officials without sufficient grounds can be deemed as political assassination.
The minister was speaking after a decision issued on Tuesday by the National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS) to suspend al-Saiha daily newspaper indefinitely after the publication of a number of stories on corrupt conduct of senior government officials.
Osman further said the new body which is chaired by his ministry will include representatives from the presidency, the government and the parliament.
He also disclosed that the government is considering setting up special courts for issues related to the media and threatened to punish any misuse under the guise of fighting corruption.
The minister said the NISS has the legal right to suspend al-Saiha and any media raising confusion and dissension in the country. He however reaffirmed that the suspension in such cases does not mean reneging on freedom of information.
He further warned against verbal abuse of the armed forces and the NISS, stressing that the armed forces and security are red lines that should not be breached.
Khartoum considers any criticism against the army and the paramilitary or security forces is aimed at sabotaging the morals of its troops that are fighting rebel groups in southern and western Sudan.
Also the first vice-president Bakri Hassan Saleh reiterated the commitment of the government to respect the freedom of the press saying “we are not against the freedom of responsible media”.
Last week, the former Prime Minister of Sudan and the head of the 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.
Al-Mahdi was questioned before state security prosecutors last Thursday regarding remarks he made claiming that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) committed serious abuses in conflict zones in Darfur and Kordofan including rape as well as looting and burning villages.
Later, Sudanese officials said that the opposition leader brought this upon himself by repeating his allegations against uniformed troops.
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.
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".
The presidency underscored that it issued this warning 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.