The National Intelligence and Security Service of Sudan (NISS) on 14 October seized all print copies of Al-Watan daily newspaper, without giving any reasons. According to journalists working with the newspaper, the NISS had asked the Editor in chief not to publish any article criticizing the government decisions to increase fuel and electricity prices. In today's edition, the paper published not only articles on the price increase and its impact on the people, but also an article quoting the ministry of justice's denial of the detention of 20 political activists, accused of mobilizing people to demonstrate against the price increase.
The day before, NISS detained journalist Mohamed Abu Zeid, who was sent by Al Siha newspaper to cover student demonstrations at Omdurman Islamic University. NISS officers allegedly confiscated his mobile phone and detained him for two hours, threatening to torture him should he continue to produce content that was critical of the government.
“RSF condemns in the strongest terms the recent arrests and beatings of journalists and the seizure of newspaper, said Clea Kahn-Sriber Head of the Africa desk of the organisaiton. The government, through the intelligence service, tries more than ever to control the information and expression spaces, fearing the consequences of its policies, instead of engaging in dialogue.”
These events follow a series of widespread efforts to crack down on Sudan’s media freedom in the last two weeks: on 10 November, the NISS detained two other journalists, Mohamed Al-Amin Abdel-Aziz of Al-Jareeda newspaper, and Amal Habani of Al-Taghyeer, who had attended a court session in Khartoum. Habani later told Radio Dabanga that NISS officials intercepted her vehicle and confiscated her phone, before striking her in the face. She and a fellow activist were detained for two hours.
Mohamed Al-Amin Abdel-Aziz was allegedly beaten and detained in downtown Khartoum after leaving work on Thursday. RSF received word that he had been released on Sunday 13th November, after 3 days in detention.
Earlier this month, the Sudanese government received widespread condemnation after seizing three local newspapers without giving reasons for the confiscation. Copies of Al-Jareeda, Al-Tayyar and Al-Watan’s Sunday editions were taken overnight by members of the NISS, just days after the government raised fuel and electricity prices in a bid to curb inflation. All three newspapers contained front page headlines and editorials criticising the government’s recent directives.
Sudanese locals have also noted a distinct slowdown of internet connection, also believed to be the work of the NISS, in an effort to control social media and social organising through online networks.
The issue of increasingly rising fuel prices is completely taboo for the government of Sudan which sees it as a direct threat to its authority. In September 2013, authorities went as far as completely shutting down Internet and mobile connexions following demonstrations against the 75% increase in the price of petrol and gas. Deadly repression of these protests left at least 50 dead. The NISS plays a role of absolute censor, asking for preapproval of publications and seizing any paper that does not meet their approval. These acts of censorship, practiced in all impunity, leads to a slow financial asphyxiation of news outlets who cannot recover the cost of printing through sales.
Sudan is ranked at the 174th rank out of 180th in RSF’s 2016 Press freedom index