Protesting journalists detained; papers suspend publication

New York, November 19, 2008–The Sudanese government should halt censorship of independent and opposition newspapers, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On Tuesday, 10 newspapers suspended publication for a day to protest government censorship and the detention of journalists a day earlier. 

About 60 journalists were briefly detained on Monday after demonstrating in front of the Sudanese parliament in Khartoum. 

The journalists protested censorship measures imposed in February and urged legislators to end “gross violations of press freedom and freedom of expression in the country,” Murthada Ghali, deputy editor of the daily Ajras al-Hurriyah, told CPJ.

Journalists have consistently complained about the sweeping censorship regime, which was imposed after reports in some papers accused the government of backing a failed Chadian coup, according to news reports. Ghali told CPJ that government censors visit his office and those of other newspapers each day and instruct editors as to what can and cannot be published.

Earlier this month, more than 150 journalists, mainly from the dailies Ajras al-Hurriyah, Rai Al-Shaab, and Al-Maydan, went on a 24-hour hunger strike and suspended publication for three days to protest government censorship, Reuters reported.

“We urge the Sudanese government to end its shameful war on independent journalism and honor its constitutional commitment to respect the right to free expression,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We express our solidarity with our Sudanese colleagues and pay tribute to their courage.”

The number of independent journalists has increased in Sudan despite numerous crackdowns on the media since Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir seized power in 1989. The end of civil war between the south and north in 2005 prompted hope that the government would halt its attacks on the media and repeal the restrictive 2004 Press and Publications Law.

“We will carry on with our struggle against the violations of press freedom and basic rights enshrined in the Constitution through all legal means and whatever the cost may be,” Sudanese journalists said in a statement cited by Al-Jazeera on its Web site.