A man throws a stone towards police during a protest in Khartoum, Sudan, on June 30, 2021. Authorities have recently blocked news websites and detained at least one journalist amid the protests. (AP/Marwan Ali)

Sudanese authorities block news websites, briefly detain Al-Jazeera reporter covering protests

New York, July 7, 2021 – Sudanese authorities should immediately allow access to all news websites in the country, and stop harassing and intimidating journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Starting June 30, authorities blocked dozens of news and other websites in response to anti-government protests that began the previous day, according to a statement by the Sudanese Journalists Network, a local press freedom group, and news reports.

Separately, on June 30, security officers in plain clothes arrested Al-Jazeera reporter Ali Abu Shaleh while he was covering protests in Khartoum, the capital, according to a report and footage of the arrest posted to Twitter by the broadcaster, which shows officers throwing him into the back of a pickup truck.

Officers beat him in custody and then released him about three hours later, Al-Jazeera spokesperson Hassan Saeed Elmogummer Taha told CPJ via email.

“Sudan’s government is moving in the wrong direction by blocking websites and arresting journalists amid protests,” said CPJ Senior Middle East and North Africa Researcher Justin Shilad. “Journalists in Sudan sorely need the transitional government to set an example for press freedom, and reversing these blocks and letting journalists work freely is the bare minimum.”

Protests broke out in Sudan on June 29 over declining economic conditions and the arrests of hundreds of members of the National Congress Party, the country’s former ruling party, according to news reports.

Following Saleh’s release, Al-Jazeera issued a statement denouncing authorities’ “violent abduction and humiliating treatment” of the journalist. CPJ was unable to immediately determine whether Saleh had been formally charged with a crime.

The country’s cybercrimes prosecutor, Abdelmoneim Abdelhafiz, said that the websites were blocked for “public safety and tranquility” and that the blocks would continue “until public opinion is disciplined,” according to the Sudanese Journalists Network statement.

Sudanese journalist Abdelgadir Mohamed Abdelgadir told CPJ via messaging app that most of the websites blocked were news outlets. CPJ was unable to immediately identify each of the blocked websites.

The blocked domains include the newspaper Al-Sudani and the news website Kush News, Baj News, Tara News, Sky Sudan, and Azza Press, according to multiple news reports.

The journalists network statement and Abdelgadir both said that the blocks were ordered by the national attorney general’s cybercrimes prosecutor; however, Al-Jazeera quoted Attorney General Mubarak Mahmoud Othman saying that he did not issue such an order, and that his office did not have the authority to do so.

CPJ emailed the Sudanese Ministry of Justice for comment, but did not receive any response.