Journalists face increasing harassment in Sudan

A raft of new tactics are being used to silence journalists in Sudan in a crackdown by Khartoum’s authorities dating from the start of uprisings in North Africa in January 2011, Amnesty International said in a new briefing released on World Press Freedom Day.

Silencing Dissent: Restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression persist in Sudan explores how the authorities now censor journalists, including by confiscating newspapers after they have been printed; preventing vendors from distributing copies; and charging journalists and editors with spurious crimes.

In the first two months of 2012 alone, the Sudanese authorities suspended three newspapers using recently established laws, which allow the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) to ban any publication containing information it considers to be a threat to national security.

Last month, the authorities confiscated two issues of the al-Midan after they had been printed, putting a serious financial strain on the newspaper.

Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director Erwin van der Borght said:

“Although attacks against freedom of expression are not new to Sudan, the pattern of harassment and intimidation of critics of the government has intensified since January last year.

“Since May 2011, the Sudanese authorities have shut down 15 newspapers, confiscated more than 40 newspaper editions, arrested eight journalists and banned two from writing, seriously curtailing freedom of expression.”

Authorities have also infiltrated social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to crackdown on activists who use these tools to share information and coordinate demonstrations and other public actions.

Activists told Amnesty International that during interrogation by the NISS, they were asked for their email and Facebook passwords.

Amnesty International also found that members of the intelligence and security services have consistently misused legislation and press conduct codes to crack down on dissent.

Article 5(2) of the 2009 Press and Publications Act states:

“No restrictions may be applied to the freedom of journalistic publishing save as maintained in this Act with regards to national security protection, public order and health; newspapers shall not be confiscated or shut down nor shall journalists and publishers be imprisoned on issues pertaining to their practice save under the provisions of this Act.”

This vague definition of what cannot be published gives extensive powers to Sudanese authorities to suspend newspapers and publishers “if found in violation of the terms and conditions of the practice”.

The 2009 Journalists’ Code of Conduct states that journalists must “defend the interest, unity, survival and integrity of the homeland”. This stipulation has been used by NISS agents to criminalise freedom of expression, including restricting reporting on armed conflicts in Sudan.

Amnesty International called on the Sudanese authorities to end the crackdown against journalists and activists and investigate all abuses at the hands of the security services.

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