KARTHOUM: Reporters Without Borders is concerned over the recent worsening condition of press freedom in Sudan. The country is already hostile to the work of journalists and seizures of journals and arrests of media professionals on Tuesday, 1 February 2011, in connection with popular demonstrations has raised fears of a major return of repression.
"We condemn the wish of the Khartoum government to censor news by intimidating journalists and dissuading them from covering protest movements," the press freedom body says.
"As in Tunisia and Egypt the people, and in particular students, want to give voice to their yearning for freedom by shouting slogans such as 'Revolution against dictatorship'. As in the case of neighbouring Egypt the security forces have put down the movement with severity and have tried to prevent the media from reflecting these events."
On Monday, 31 January, demonstrations were organised in several cities, in particular in Khartoum and Omdurman. They were initiated by social networks such as Facebook, where a group calling itself "January 30, a word to the sudanese youth" called for peaceful demonstrations. The protests demanded the end of "injustice and humiliation."
Drawing inspiration from the recent revolution in Tunisia and the uprisings underway in Egypt the demonstrators expressed their anger against the political, economic and social running of the country.
Several people were arrested, among them a number of journalists, including Hamza Baloul, correspondent of the Qatari newspaper Alsharq, Sarah Tag of the newspaper Alsahafa, Ali Haj Al-amin of'Ajras Alhurrya, Hussein Khogali, editor of the daily Al-Wan, and Mohamed Amir Musa, from the Turkish news agency Al-ikhlas.
A photographer working for Agence France-Presse (AFP) was held by the military for almost two hours and a dozen journalists were told not to cover the demonstrations. Some internet sites were also blocked, in particular those calling for demonstrations. Overnight on 30 January the dailies Alsahafa and Ajras Alhurrya were seized, preventing them from publishing the following morning.
"Sudan, which already occupies 172nd place out of 178 in our world press freedom ratings, continues to confirm its role as bottom of the class in press freedom," Reporters Without Borders said.
"To be sure a diverse press does exist in Sudan but the moment it touches on sensitive subjects, repression is brutal. The demonstrators were protesting peacefully and the journalists who were arrested or prevented from doing their job were only carrying out their mission to inform. The authorities' assertion that they were a threat to national security does not stand up."
The forthcoming partition of the country after the self-determination referendum in the south gives rise to many debates that the government wishes to crush. The referendum process was tarnished by some press freedom violations. Reporters Without Borders condemned recently the detention and charging of two journalists in the east of the country who risk the death penalty.
The press freedom organisation has also recalled that five other journalists are at present in jail in Sudan: Gafar Alsabki Ibrahim, journalist with Alsahafa, held since 3 November 2010, Abdurrahman Adam, who works with Radio Dabanga, since 30 October 2010, and Abuser Al Amin, Ashraf Abdelaziz and Altahir Ibrahim (also known as Altahir Abugawhara), all three journalists working for the now-banned opposition daily Rai al-Chaab (The Opinion of the People), held since May 2010.