Sudan orders news outlets to toe government line

New York, October 1, 2013–Amid violent protests in Sudan last week, authorities asked journalists to refrain from publishing news that they said would “disturb the public,” according to news reports. Several journalists were subsequently detained and multiple outlets shut down, news reports said.

The nationwide protests in Sudan began last week in response to a government decision to cut fuel subsidies. At least 33 have been killed and more than 700 arrested, according to news reports.

“Through censorship and intimidation, the Sudanese government is trying to get journalists to stick to the official narrative or pay the price with their own freedom,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “The media must be allowed to cover issues of public interest, including popular protest.”

The Sudanese government last week ordered editors to publish news in line with official statements, according to news reports. Abdelgadir Mohammed Abdelgadir, a freelance journalist who spoke to several editors, told CPJ that the government told them to portray protesters as “vandals” and to justify the need for lifting fuel subsidies as part of “much-needed economic reforms.”

On Monday, Sudanese officials confirmed the order on state television, saying that editors had agreed to self-censor in an attempt to not cover news that “disturbed the public” or “caused sedition.”

Authorities on Friday shut down the offices of the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel and the British broadcaster Sky News in Khartoum and confiscated their licenses, according to news reports. A Sudanese official blamed the networks’ news coverage for the shutdown, saying the outlets were “trying to manufacture an Arab Spring in Sudan,” reports said. The outlets have been closed indefinitely.

On Sunday, Al-Intibaha, Sudan’s most popular newspaper, which is run by President Omar al-Bashir’s uncle, was also shut down indefinitely, according to news reports.

Authorities on Thursday suspended the publication of at least three independent dailies that reported critically on the protests. Al-Sudany was suspended for three days and Almeghar Alseyasi for five days, news reports said. Al-Watan was also suspended.

Police arrested Amal Habani, a reporter for the online website Al-Taghyeer (Change), on Saturday and have continued to detain her without charge in an unknown location, according to her employer. Al-Taghyeer has reported critically about the government handling of the protests. The site said Habani was arrested at a funeral. Last May, the journalist had been banned, without explanation, from traveling outside the country, according to Al-Taghyeer.

“Authorities should release Amal Habani immediately or disclose the charges against her,” said CPJ’s Mansour.

Sudanese authorities did not immediately respond to CPJ’s requests for comment.

At least two journalists were also briefly detained by Sudanese authorities. Sami al-Shinawy, correspondent of Dubai TV, was detained by police for four hours on Monday while covering a protest, according to news reports. Okail Ahmed Naem, reporter for Ahram Today, was detained on Friday while covering protests in Khartoum, news reports said. He was released on Saturday.

The Sudanese Journalists’ Network said on Saturday that its members were halting their work in protest of the official censorship. The strike ended on Sunday. Several journalists have also resigned from news outlets, and several newspapers refused to publish in protest of the official censorship, according to news reports.

The Sudanese government briefly shut down the Internet last week. Authorities detained and harassed journalists in previous months for reporting on military topics.