Protesters march during a rally against military rule in Khartoum, Sudan, on January 13, 2022. Since January 12, Sudanese military forces have assaulted and detained at least six media workers covering the protests. (Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)

Sudanese military arrests, assaults journalists covering protests

New York, January 18, 2022 – Sudanese authorities must immediately release all detained journalists and stop arresting and assaulting members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Since January 12, Sudanese military forces in the capital Khartoum have detained, and later released, at least six journalists and media workers, and on January 13, military forces assaulted a freelance journalist and attempted to run over at least two other journalists with military vehicles.

All of those journalists were targeted while covering protests against Sudan’s military rulers, which have been ongoing since Sudanese military head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan overthrew the country’s joint civilian-military transitional government in an October 2021 coup d’état.

Also, on January 16 the Sudanese Ministry of Culture and Information said it had withdrawn the broadcast license of Qatari satellite channel Al-Jazeera, according to a report from the outlet and Radio Dabanga. According to Al-Jazeera, the ministry also withdrew the accreditation of two of its journalists, Khartoum correspondent Mohamed Omar and photographer Badawi Bashir, in response to the network’s alleged “unprofessional coverage” and reporting that “damaged the social fabric” of Sudan, according to the ministry’s statement included in the report.

“By arresting and assaulting journalists and withdrawing the licenses of Al-Jazeera and two of its reporters, Sudan’s military rulers are showing their contempt not just for a free press but for the Sudanese people and their demands for a transition to democratic rule,” said Justin Shilad, CPJ’s senior Middle East and North Africa researcher. “Sudanese military authorities must immediately release all detained journalists, allow the media to report freely, and stop their attacks on the press.”

On January 12, military security forces arrested Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency photographers Mohamed Khidir and Majdi Abdallah and took them to a military base in the neighboring city of Omdurman, according to the Sudanese Journalists Network, a local press freedom group, and Radio Dabanga, a local independent media outlet.

Local freelance journalist and press freedom advocate Abdelgadir Mohamed Abdelgadir told CPJ that both journalists have since been released; Abdelgadir alleged that they were mistreated in custody but was unable to provide further details. CPJ was unable to determine how long they were held or how they were treated in custody. CPJ emailed Xinhua seeking comment but did not immediately receive a response.

On January 13, security forces surrounded the Khartoum office of Al Araby TV, a London-based broadcaster funded by a Qatar company with military vehicles, stormed the building, and arrested reporter Wael Mohammed Alhassan, office supervisor Islam Saleh, camera operator Mazen Onour, and his assistant Abu Baker Ali, according to an official statement sent by the channel to CPJ via messaging app, another statement posted on the channel’s website, an Al-Araby TV article, and a statement from the Sudanese Journalists Network. The channel’s crew was filming the protests from the rooftop when the raid occurred, according to the Al-Araby TV article, adding that the soldiers beat Saleh with batons while arresting him. In a separate article, the channel reported that the four employees’ whereabouts during detention and reasons for their arrests were unknown, and their colleagues’ attempts to contact them by phone were unsuccessful.

In a tweet later January 13, Al-Araby TV said the team had been released; CPJ was unable to independently verify how long they were held.

Around 4 p.m. on January 13, Shamael Elnoor, a freelance journalist who has written for newspapers, including Al-Tayyar and Al-Shorooq, was covering the protests in an area around the El Qurashi Gardens when a group of military transport vehicles drove into a crowd of protestors, according to the Sudanese Journalists Network, a Facebook post by Elnoor, and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.

Two other journalists covering the protests, Osman Fadlalla, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Al-Siyasi, and Bakri Khalifa, were nearly run over by the military vehicles, according to the Sudanese Journalists Network, Radio Dabanga, and a Facebook post by Fadlalla. Neither were injured and CPJ could not immediately determine which outlet Khalifa was working for at the time of the incident.

When the vehicles stopped, several soldiers armed with batons exited and began beating protesters, seemingly at random, according to Elnoor. Then, three soldiers began beating Elnoor with rubber hoses and continued beating her as she tried to run away, the journalist told CPJ, adding that she was in pain and suffered bruises and swelling all over her body because of the assault.

CPJ emailed the Sudanese Ministry for Justice for comment on the arrests and whether the assaults would be investigated but did not immediately receive a response. CPJ attempted to contact the Sudanese Ministry of Information about the license and accreditation suspensions through a contact form on their website, but it would not accept the message. CPJ was unable to find other contact information for the ministry.