Attacks on the Press 1999: Sudan

The press continued to suffer under the regime of Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who marked his 10th year in power by allowing restricted multiparty politics. Some private newspapers were noticeably more aggressive in their coverage of issues such as official corruption and the country’s 16-year-old civil war. In response, authorities punished outspoken newspapers with a flurry of suspensions.

The pro-government Press and Publications Council, which can suspend papers and sanction journalists in accordance with Sudan’s harsh press law, handed out suspension orders against both private and pro-government newspapers throughout the year. The council’s most frequent target was the private daily Al-Rai al-Akhar, which was repeatedly suspended for criticizing government policies and covering exiled opposition figures.

In September, President Bashir himself ordered the paper’s indefinite closure, supposedly for offending the armed forces and religious groups. Although the paper was given permission to resume publishing in November, staff members say the closures have taken a serious financial toll.

In April, authorities arrested three journalists on suspicion of spying for an unnamed foreign country. One of them, the London-based daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat‘s Khartoum correspondent Muhammad Abdel Sid, was held incommunicado for over a month and severely tortured during his interrogation, according to his paper. No charges were brought against him.

In February, State Minister for Culture and Information Amin Hassan Omar threatened Sudanese journalists with prosecution if they covered opposition parties that had not registered with the government. “If we feel you have somewhat gone beyond the limit, we may call you and ask you to correct your steps,” he was quoted as saying. “We have a constitution and laws which both politicians and journalists must obey.”

April 15
Muhammad Abdel Sid, Al-Sharq al-Awsat IMPRISONED

Security forces arrested Abdel Sid, a correspondent for the London-based daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, for allegedly “spying” on behalf of a foreign country.

According to Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Abdel Sid “was subjected to torture by members of the security apparatus and transferred to Kober Hospital in Khartoum” during his detention. He was denied access to a lawyer and visits from family members.

On April 20 and May 6, CPJ protested the arbitrary detention of Abdel Sid and his reported mistreatment by security forces in separate letters to Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

The journalist was held incommunicado for over a month until his release on May 24. No charges were brought against him.

April 18
Abdel Qader Hafez, Al-Jazeera IMPRISONED
Maha Hassan Ali, Sudan News Agency IMPRISONED

Ali, editor of the official Sudan News Agency, and Hafez, a correspondent for the Saudi Arabian daily Al-Jazeera, were arrested at their homes in Khartoum on or about April 18. Authorities failed to specify a reason for the arrests, although local sources speculated that it was based on allegations that the two journalists had spied for Egypt.

Ali was released on bail on April 21 and Hafez a few days later. It is unclear whether the two journalists have been charged.

July 5
Al-Rai al-Akhar CENSORED

The pro-government Press and Publications Council suspended three daily newspapers for periods of up to one week.

The independent Al-Rai Al-Akhar was suspended for seven days in response to an article it published criticizing frequent accidents involving military aircraft.

The pro-government Alwan was shut down for two days for reporting on alleged government corruption. The newly established daily Al-Bayan was suspended for one day for reasons that remain unclear.

August 16
Al-Rai al-Akhar CENSORED

The pro-government Press and Publications Council ordered the one-week suspension of the independent daily Al-Rai al-Akhar. The ban came in response to the paper’s publication of an article criticizing government human-rights abuses and its role in the country’s ongoing civil war.

September 1
Al-Rai al-Akhar CENSORED
Al-Rai al-Aam CENSORED

The pro-government Press and Publications Council suspended three newspapers for their published criticisms of government authorities: the independent dailies Al-Rai al-Akhar and Al-Rai al-Aam and the official daily Al-Anbaa.

Al-Rai al-Akhar was slapped with a one-week suspension for publishing the speech of an exiled opposition figure who strongly criticized the al-Bashir regime over its role in the country’s ongoing civil war.

Al-Rai al-Aam was suspended for two days because of an August article that criticized state educational policies.

Al-Anbaa was hit with a one-day suspension for allegedly publishing false news.

September 16
Al-Rai al-Akhar CENSORED

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir ordered the indefinite closure of the independent daily Al-Rai al-Akhar, stating that the paper had upset religious groups and members of the army and security forces.

The pro-government Press and Publications Council suspended Al-Rai al-Akhar repeatedly during the year because of its critical coverage of public officials. The suspensions have cost the paper thousands of dollars in lost revenues.

On November 7, President al-Bashir announced that the ban was lifted and that “nothing can prevent the paper from appearing once again provided it is committed to the overall interests of the homeland.” Al-Rai al-Akhar resumed publication shortly thereafter.