3 June 2009

Journalists protest press law before parliament

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Sudan's draft press law will seriously impede journalists' ability to access and disseminate information if passed, say Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). ARTICLE 19 and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have also expressed concern about the repressive provisions of the draft.

The Sudanese Parliament is currently debating a new law regulating the printed press. The bill gives the National Press and Publication Council (NPPC) the power to shut down newspapers, arbitrarily investigate journalists, revoke licenses, confiscate equipment and levy outrageously high fines of up to 50,000 Sudanese pounds (approximately US $21,500). (A recent story in the Sudan Tribune, however, says the Sudanese Parliament has agreed to drop the fine provision in the law.) The law fails to define what would constitute an offence requiring such punitive measures, nor does it take measures to ensure the independence of the NPPC, a body closely tied to the president's office.

In May, around 50 journalists from the Sudanese Journalists Network protested against the law in front of the Parliament in Khartoum. Also last month, about one third of the National Assembly's members walked out of the chamber to protest the bill.

IFJ gave its full backing to the Sudanese Union of Journalists (SUJ) in its demands to remove repressive dispositions of the draft of the new press law. CPJ described the proposed law as a "major blow to journalists", while RSF referred to it as a "very serious step backward." Both organisations are calling on the Sudanese parliament to reject the bill.

Already, the situation for print journalists in Sudan is dire. Censorship was ramped up in February 2008 when media accused the Sudanese government of supporting a failed coup in neighbouring Chad and the repressive tactics have only worsened since the International Criminal Court issued its arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, CPJ reports.

Currently, government agents are sent to newspapers at press time to review content and censor stories. Since the beginning of the year, two foreign journalists, Tunisian Zouhir Latif, and Canadian-Egyptian Heba Aly, have been expelled from the country. Several newspapers have faced suspensions while the newspaper "Al-Alwan," which was raided last year, remains closed.

The IFJ, in its latest report on "Breaking the Chains Campaign in the Arab World and Iran", recorded on-going pressure on journalists in Sudan and urged Parliament to consider proposals submitted by the SUJ. Meanwhile, ARTICLE 19 and the Khartoum Center for Human Rights and Environmental Development (KCHRED) have recommended that the UN Human Rights Council renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan.

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