After a modest respite, during which President Omar al-Bashir met with newspaper owners on 6 February and promised to release all detained journalists, the regime has clearly decided to crack down again.
A dozen journalists were arrested during the past weekend’s protests, in which demonstrators openly called for the army to help oust Bashir, Sudan’s ruler for the past 30 years. Two journalists, Walid Elnoor of the newspaper Al-Meghar and Mahir Abul Gookh of Sudania 24 TV, are still being held.
The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) has also resumed confiscating newspaper issues as they come off the press. This time it is Al-Watan, Al-Youm Al-Tali, Al-Jareeda and Al-Baath whose issues have been seized. On 7 April, the NISS also raided the newspaper Al-Sayha, roughing up several of its journalists and arresting its editor, Abo Obaida Abdallah.
The leading online social networks have been rendered inaccessible again since 7 April. Sudan already blocked access to them for 68 days running, from 21 December to 26 February, according to Netblocks, an NGO that monitors cyber-censorship worldwide.
“Far from providing answers to the demands being expressed, this heavy-handed crackdown on the media is just amplifying Sudan’s political crisis,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The regime’s predatory behaviour towards the press and journalists is unprecedented. Around 100 journalists have been arrested since the start of the protests and the censorship is targeting both newspapers, which the NISS prevents from circulating, and access to the Internet and social networks, which are often disconnected or slowed down.”
The president’s show of defusing tension two months ago now seems to have been designed solely to win time and deflect attention from the regime’s violations, including its violations against the media.
RSF expressed concern over ongoing press freedom assaults despite the release Al-Tayar editor Osman Mirghani on 28 March. The journalist remained in detention for five weeks for openly criticizing the president’s state of emergency on the Abu Dhabi-based TV news channel Sky News Arabia. Several dozen journalists had staged a street demonstration three days earlier to demand his release and to protest against the regime’s crackdown on the media.
Sudan is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.