Sudan holds local journalist for 12 days, confiscates newspapers

New York, January 29, 2018–Sudanese authorities should immediately release freelance journalist Amal Habbani and cease confiscating newspapers, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) arrested Habbani on January 16 while she was covering anti-inflation protests in Khartoum state, and have held her for 12 days without providing details about her detention, news media reported and her husband, Shawky Abdelazim, confirmed to CPJ.

Abdelazim told CPJ that Habbani’s family received information from unofficial sources in NISS that the journalist has been suffering from injuries sustained when security agents beat her with electric sticks upon her arrest. NISS has not responded to multiple requests the family submitted in person or to a letter requesting more information on Habbani’s health, Abdelazim said.

CPJ was unable to determine if Habbani has been formally charged.

NISS did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via email.

NISS also confiscated all copies of yesterday’s issues of the weekly newspaper Akhbar al-Watan, which is owned by Sudan’s ruling party, the National Congress, and the Socialist Party’s daily newspaper al-Midan, according to Akhbar al-Watan editor Hanadi al-Seddig, and news reports. While the authorities did not provide a reason behind the decision, al-Seddig told CPJ that she believes the confiscation is a response to the newspapers’ critical coverage of the ongoing protests.

“It is bad enough that Sudanese authorities have repeatedly harassed journalists and confiscated newspapers; now they are also using brute force to silence a reporter,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington D.C. “Sudan should immediately release Amal Habbani and stop trying to muzzle the media.”

The security service arrested six other journalists on January 16 and 17 who were covering the protests in addition to Habbani, according to news reports. All the other journalists were released, according to news reports.

NISS previously filed lawsuits against Habbani, who writes for local newspapers including Hurriyat and Sudanile, and, in 2013, banned her from travel outside Sudan, CPJ documented at the time. (The ban on foreign travel was lifted by 2016, according to media reports.) In 2017, a Sudanese court ordered Habani to pay a fine of 10,000 Sudanese pounds (roughly US$1430) or to serve four months in prison after the journalist reported on a politically sensitive trial, according to news reports.

Separately, the National Congress in a statement published on social media called for donations to support Akhbar al-Watan newspaper, which according to al-Seddig, has suffered massive financial losses because of the repeated confiscation.

“Three issues in a row did not see the light,” al-Seddig said. “Our newspaper is well read, but the confiscations are a major obstacle.”

Sudan has repeatedly confiscated newspapers that publish information on the recent spate of anti-government protests, CPJ has documented.