Authorities intensify newspaper censorship and seizures

New York, September 14, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by increasing censorship of opposition and independent newspapers in Sudan. The press climate in the country has deteriorated in recent months against a backdrop of continuing ethnic killings in the western region of Darfur, and growing political unrest and protests over price rises.

Security forces in Khartoum seized the entire print-run of Ra’y Al-Shaab, an opposition Arabic-language daily for the Popular National Congress party, on Thursday, a source told CPJ. Censors from the security services blocked so many articles destined for Thursday’s edition of Al-Sudani, an independent Arabic language daily, that the paper was unable to publish that issue, the source said.

The authorities told editors the issues were censored to avoid compromising an investigation into the murder of newspaper editor Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed. He was kidnapped and beheaded September 5 in Khartoum. See CPJ’s news alert:

Local journalists quoted by Reuters disputed this. They said the censored editions contained articles about the lack of democratic transformation in Sudan, and the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations against price rises for fuel and sugar.

Over the past month, freedom of the press in Sudan has been heavily curtailed. On August 30, Khartoum police beat Ibrahim Muhammad, a cameraman for the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera, and seized his camera during a banned demonstration against the price hikes. On August 26, a court in El-Fasher charged Paul Salopek, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Chicago Tribune, along with his Chadian interpreter and driver, with espionage, illegally disseminating information, and writing “false news.” Salopek was released last week. Tomo Kriznar, a Slovenian freelance photographer was detained in Darfur on July 19 and sentenced on August 14 to two years in prison on what CPJ considers a spurious charge of espionage. He was released September 4.

“Sudan’s promises to the international community to adopt democratic reforms are shown up by these assaults on press freedoms to be hollow,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “By denying media access to Darfur and confiscating newspapers in Khartoum the authorities are continuing to restrict the work of the press.”

On Saturday, security forces confiscated the entire print-run of Al-Sudani, deputy editor-in-chief Noureddine Medani told Agence France-Presse. He said the authorities told him that they had “reservations” about the paper’s coverage of “current issues.”

On Monday, censors from the security services blocked several columns written for Tuesday’s paper. Some were about recent demonstrations and trials in the country.

Ra’y Al-Shaab said censors from the state-security forces enter their offices each day, Reuters reported.

Authorities censored several articles in the Arabic-language daily Al-Sahafa Monday night. The paper’s editorial adviser, Haider al-Mikashfy, told AFP that he suspected authorities were looking for articles supporting a United Nation’s resolution calling for the deployment of United Nations troops in the country’s troubled Darfur region.

The independent daily Al-Ayam also complained that several articles were cut from their Tuesday edition, AFP reported.

“We condemn the censorship of opposition and independent newspapers, and call on the authorities to stop harassing these papers immediately,” Simon added.

Following the end of Sudan’s second civil war in 2005, the country’s stringent media restrictions began to ease and a new constitution called for more press freedom. Several senior politicians said the censorship of these papers violated the constitution.