August 18, 2016

Sudanese intelligence agency’s war on freedom of information

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the way the authorities, especially the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), hound the media in Sudan, where not a week goes by without their closing media outlets, confiscating newspaper issues or arresting journalists. This persecution is having serious and lasting consequences for the ability of the media to continue doing their work.

“You’d better leave because there’s no room for the media in this country,” said a police officer who beat Hawa Rahma, a reporter for the independent daily Al-Jareeda, as she was covering the demolition of El-Takamol, a Khartoum district owned by an Egyptian irrigation company, on 10 August.

After being arrested by a policewoman and then bundled into a police vehicle, she was interrogated by several police officers and was hit on the back of the neck. This latest of many incidents dramatically highlights the Sudanese government’s determination to crush the country’s media.

In May, we already condemned the repeated violations of media freedom by the Sudanese authorities but the situation has got much worse since then,” RSF said. “The intelligence services act in a completely arbitrary manner, suppressing freedom of information and directly threatening the media’s economic survival.”

The seizure of newspaper issues was already a leading NISS trademark and RSF has registered 27 cases since the start of the year. But this form of censorship reached a new level on 15 August, when the NISS seized the latest issues of three newspapers – El Mijhar El Siyasi, El Ahram El Youm and El Sayha – because of their coverage of the Darfur peace talks currently under way in Addis Ababa.

The same day, the National Council for Press and Publications, the NISS’s sidekick on media issues, announced the suspension of four newspapers – Elaph, Al-Mustaquilla, Al-Watan and Awal Al-Nahar – under the 2009 Press and Publications Law, the draconian nature of which was criticized by RSF prior to its adoption.

Five days before that, on 10 August, the NISS confiscated 15,000 copies of the newspaper Al-Youm Al-Tali for printing an article critical of the ruling National Congress Party. And during the first week of August, the NISS seized around 13,000 copies of the newspaper Al-Saiha twice, causing a loss of 30,000 Sudanese pounds (4,400 euros), its editor, Al-Nour Ahmed Al-Nour, said.

The newspaper Akhir Lahza suffered a similar loss when 14,500 copies were seized on 27-28 July, apparently because of an article comparing the coup attempt in Turkey with the way President Omar al-Bashir came to power in 1989.

After reprinting the article, the opposition newspaper Al-Taghyeer suffered the same fate, one that could prove fatal because it announced at the end of July that it was suspending publication indefinitely and laying off part of its staff.

Journalists are constantly summoned for questioning by the NISS or the National Council for Press and Publications. Even covering sport can get them into trouble. Alter a programme about relations between the Sudanese Football Federation and FIFA, Hasan Farouk, a journalist with Radio Hala 96 and the newspaper Al Ra’i al Aam, was accused on 26 July of turning public opinion against the government by criticizing its sports policies.

In late June, the sports newspaper Al-Asyad was suspended indefinitely by the NISS after it reiterated its support for a leading local football team and mocked the governor of the state of Khartoum, accusing him of corruption, because he was providing a rival team with financial support.

Sudan is ranked very near the bottom (174th out of 180 countries) of RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

To find out more about the situation of freedom of information in Sudan, click here.