Press freedom under siege after military coup in Sudan
What with journalists being arrested, state media placed under military control and the Internet disconnected, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the clampdown by the armed forces in Sudan and its serious consequences for the freedom to report the news and for access to information.
“Military forces stormed Sudanese Radio and Television headquarters in Omdurman [the twin city of the capital Khartoum] and arrested employees,” the information ministry reported on its Facebook page shortly before midnight on 24 October, as the coup d’état got under way. Shortly thereafter, the Internet was suddenly disconnected, and soldiers arrested the prime minister and other civilian members of the transitional government.
Ever since then, the military have continued to maintain extremely tight control over all information about the takeover by soldiers led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and about the violent crackdown on protests. The Internet is still inaccessible, according to the specialist watchdog Netblocks, and several journalists have been arrested.
Maha Al-Talb, a correspondent for Bloomberg and Al-Sharq, spent hours in police custody on 25 October, while Fayez Al-Seleik, the newspaper El Democrati’s well-known columnist, was arrested shortly after giving an interview at Al Jazeera’s Khartoum bureau in which he criticized the coup.
El Democrati, whose editorial line was generally favourable towards the transition, has been particularly targeted by the military. On 28 October, security forces raided its headquarters and went to the home of its editor, El-Haj Warrag, in order to arrest him.
Now controlled by the military, the state-owned media are carrying propaganda praising the armed forces and attacking the coup’s opponents. Maher Abugoukh, the head of state TV’s news and current affairs programmes, who had voiced reservations about the military when invited on to several radio and TV programmes in early October, was arrested at his home by soldiers on 26 October. The heads of the Sudanese news agency and press council have both been fired.
“What with propaganda, the Internet being disconnected and the crackdown on journalists, this military coup has jeopardised the fragile gains from the revolution that ousted the autocratic Omar al-Bashir two years ago,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “We strongly condemn the return of these predatory methods and we express our support for the journalists and media that are courageously trying to cover these events despite a very hostile environment and a press freedom under siege.”
In a statement yesterday, the Sudanese Journalists Network (SJN) condemned the “information blackout” that has left Sudan in a “state of isolation” and is threatening to bring back the era of administrative sanctions on newspapers, censorship and prosecutions of journalists.
Sudan is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.