Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Sudan
As of December 31, 1998

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Since the June 1989 military coup that brought the Islamist-led regime of Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir to power, the state has kept a tight rein on Sudan's press. Although some privately owned newspapers exist, they function under severe constraints, engaging in self-censorship on sensitive topics such as the country's ongoing civil war, government corruption, domestic unrest, or criticism of the Islamic law under which the country is governed. Frequent state reprisals in recent years--ranging from the suspension or permanent closure of outspoken newspapers to long-term detention and torture of offending journalists--have taught journalists that critical reporting is a risky business.

In July, the army warned local and foreign journalists against writing about national security and military operations without official consent. Authorities also doled out sanctions against private newspapers through suspension and censorship. In May, the pro-government Press and Publications Council imposed a three-day closure on the privately owned Al-Sharia al-Siyasi and Al-Rai al-Akher--the former for reporting that the turnout for a constitutional referendum was low, and the latter for inciting "religious groups against each other." Two months later, one edition of each of the two papers was confiscated without explanation, reportedly for their criticism of the new country's constitution.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Uthman Ismail denied any government interference in the closures during a May interview with the London-based daily Al Sharq al Awsat: "We have a Press and Publications Council that deals with any instances of violation of the law by the press. The government has no authority over the press, and it has no power to suspend any newspaper or punish any journalist... The climate of freedom and democracy in Sudan speaks for itself, and I invite you to verify things for yourself."

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