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REGIONS:

A GLIMMER OF HOPE FOR PRESS FREEDOM

Sudan's President, Omar Hassan Al Bashir, has lifted a state of emergency following the signing of a new constitution, a move greeted with cautious optimism by journalists in the country, says Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontiers, RSF).

Al Bashir lifted the state of emergency on 10 July, a day after he signed a new constitution with former rebel leader and new vice president John Garang in the presence of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and dignitaries from Africa, Europe and the United States.

The lifting of the state of emergency, which had been in place since 1989, effectively ends restrictions on the press that were imposed by Al Bashir. A prime target of the laws was Sudan's newspapers. The ongoing conflict in Darfur, where a state of emergency exists, is not included in the peace deal.

According to an Associated Press report, the new constitution provides better protection for freedom of expression and guarantees freedom of publication and the press "without prejudice ... as regulated by law." Though the wording could allow for a monitoring body to interpret what the "law" may allow, it is more open than the previous constitution.

In a recent test case, the Sudanese army filed a legal action on 14 July against the newspaper "Al-Ayam" for publishing an article that the army considered demeaning to the military. Previously, an official complaint against any publication would have likely resulted in an immediate suspension of the paper.

Sudan's national security service has issued a statement saying the media "should play their national role without the need of putting any restrictions on them."

However, RSF says many journalists remain skeptical of the government's commitment to press freedom. The "Khartoum Monitor", an English-language daily newspaper, has not been able to publish since 12 June, when a high court judge cancelled its licence.

Alfred Taban, the newspaper's chairman, told Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that he was uncertain about the motive for the cancellation, but noted that the newspaper published a piece about violence at a displaced persons camp outside Khartoum. The story angered authorities because it countered the official version of events, and police confiscated the entire edition of the newspaper.

Until the signing of a recent peace pact between Garang's Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) and military strongman Al Bashir, the country was mired in two decades of conflict which left over two million people dead.

Visit:
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=14390
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Sudan14june05na.html
- Article 19: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/66083
- BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/country_profiles/820864.stm
- AP Report: http://www.sudantribune.com/article.php3?id_article=10645

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