Sudan shutters opposition paper, arrests three journalists

New York, May 17, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Sudanese government’s decision to shut down opposition daily Rai al-Shaab and to arrest three of its journalists.

Security forces raided Rai al-Shaab’s offices in Khartoum on Sunday morning, confiscating copies and equipment and stopping all printing, according to local and international news reports. Deputy Editor Abu Zar al-Amin and two reporters, Ashraf Abdel Aziz and Dahab Ibrahim, were arrested and are being held without charge, according to the same reports.

The daily’s editor-in-chief, Yassin Omar al-Imam, told CPJ that the raid came after his paper published a report on May 14 alleging that Iran built some kind of weapons factory in Sudan to supply insurgents in Africa and the Middle East. The report was later dismissed by the ruling party as false and a scheme by the Popular Congress Party (PCP), which publishes the newspaper, to sour relations between the United States and Sudan. Authorities on Saturday also arrested the PCP’s chief and one of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s top critics, Hassan al-Turabi, accusing him of “stirring up hatred, disseminating malicious lies and abuse of Sudan’s foreign relations,” according to CNN.

“We condemn the arrest of our colleagues and the shuttering of Rai al-Shaab,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. “The newspaper and the journalists involved must be afforded an opportunity to defend their work. In the meantime, Rai al-Shaab ought to be allowed to operate unhindered.”

Al-Imam told CPJ that Rai al-Shaab staff will file a lawsuit against security forces for unlawful arrest of their colleagues and closure of the newspaper. He added that they will also seek financial compensation for “revenue loss, property damages, and unwarranted emotional distress.”