Sudan’s independent and opposition newspapers occasionally feature lively coverage of local political affairs, but the government quickly stifles discussion when the press becomes too bold. Coverage of topics such as the 18-year civil war, government corruption or mismanagement, or other official misdeeds has triggered arrests, prosecutions, and censorship, and has led to a rise in self-censorship.
In September, the Press and Publications Council (PPC) imposed a three-day ban on the Khartoum Monitor, an independent, English-language daily, for publishing stories about the Nuba people in southern Sudan. The PPC claimed that the articles caused friction between the country’s peoples. Several staff members were also detained. The PPC, which reports directly to the president, is responsible for enforcing Sudan’s restrictive Press Law.
The PPC also suspended several newspapers. In early October, the council issued one-day suspensions to the dailies Al-Usbu and Alwan because some of their articles allegedly offended other journalists, according to press reports.
Sudanese authorities also used criminal and civil statutes to prosecute journalists who criticized officials or the government. A Khartoum court jailed Amal Abbas, editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Rai al-Akher, and Ibrahim Hassan, a reporter for the paper, for three months for failing to pay fines in a libel suit. The two were found guilty of libeling Khartoum governor Majzoub Khalifa in a 2000 article that accused him of corruption and nepotism. They were ordered to pay fines of 15 million pounds (US$5,900) each. Al-Rai al-Akher was also hit with a 1 billion pound fine (US$390,000), reportedly the largest fine ever imposed in a libel suit in Sudan.
In April, at least two journalists were detained in Khartoum while covering a banned Easter gathering at the All Saint’s Church. In late October, Alfred Taaban and another reporter from the Khartoum Monitor were detained and held for several days after the paper published an article about the difficulties of covering the conflict in southern Sudan. Tabaan, who was accused of “inciting religious and ethnic hatred,” was to be officially charged on December 27.
The Ministry of Information, meanwhile, continued to monitor and censor publications. In November, 22 Sudanese journalists from the Al-Watan newspaper were detained after they marched on the ministry. The journalists were protesting an order not to publish an article alleging that the government had distributed expired medicines in the countryside. The editors of the paper decided to hold the entire issue in protest. The detained journalists were transported to prison in three trucks and were released the following day. At press time, it was unclear whether they would still face charges.
Amal Abbas, Al Rai al-Akher
Ibrahim Hassan, Al Rai al-Akher
Abbas, editor of the daily Al-Rai al-Akher, and Hassan, a reporter for the paper, were ordered jailed for three months by a Khartoum court for failing to pay fines in a libel suit brought by the governor of Khartoum.
The two journalists were found guilty of libeling Governor Majzoub Khalifa by accusing him of corruption and nepotism in an August 2000 article. They were ordered to pay fines of 15 million pounds (US$5,900) each. The journalists were unable to pay the fines. Even though supporters offered to pay the fines on their behalf, they refused to accept this help, opting instead for prison.
Al-Rai al-Akher was also hit with a 1 billion pound fine (US$390,000), reportedly the largest sum ever handed down in a libel suit in Sudan. Both journalists were released on February 19 pending the outcome of their appeal.
Khartoum Monitor, Sudan’s main independent, English-language daily, was suspended and some staffers were detained over articles about the civil strife in southern Sudan and the influence of Western culture in the country.
The Press and Publications Council (PPC) imposed a three-day ban on the paper, claiming the articles had incited the country’s Christian minority to violence and caused friction between the country’s peoples. The PPC, which reports directly to the president, is responsible for enforcing Sudan’s Press Law.