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Two journalists arrested in the past week

(RSF/IFEX) - 4 November 2010 - Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns yesterday's arbitrary arrest of journalist Gafar Alsabki Ibrahim during a raid by intelligence officials on the independent newspaper Alsahafa. They took him away to an unknown location after making him surrender his mobile phone and preventing him from alerting his family. No reason was given for his arrest.

The press freedom organization urges the authorities to publicly explain why they carried out the raid and why they arrested Ibrahim, and to do so without delay.

Is Ibrahim, who is from Darfur, the victim of a major drive to censor the media? His sudden arrest is not isolated. The Sudanese government has been controlling media coverage of the political and humanitarian crisis in Darfur for years and seems determined to suppress all information on the subject.

Three days before Ibrahim's arrest, on 30 October, a special security forces unit raided the Khartoum office of Radio Dabanga (a station registered in the Netherlands), seizing equipment, closing it, and arresting several people who had come to attend a training session. The station's office is in a building that houses several human rights organizations, some of whose members were also arrested.

Radio Dabanga director Hildebrand Bijleveld said Abdelrahman Adam, a journalist who works for the station, was one of the 13 people arrested.

"These arrests are obviously designed to intimidate and silence journalists," Bijleveld said. "Radio Dabanga is the only station to talk about the 'Darfur final conclusion' operation and about the region in general. As the referendum on South Sudan's independence approaches, the authorities want to silence media outlets that question the official line. The authorities cite 'national security' as the grounds for the arrests and confiscation of material. They say they have the right to arrest these people because the station does not have a license."

The only media outlet specifically covering Darfur, Radio Dabanga has long been a source of irritation to the authorities in Khartoum, who have refused to give it a local licence and have urged the Dutch authorities to close it down. The station continues to broadcast.

The French government issued a strong condemnation of the arrests, calling on the Sudanese authorities to release the detainees and allow independent news media to operate freely. Sudanese journalist Faisal Elbagir, coordinator of the local NGO Journalists for Human Rights, said the arrests were "a clear sign that the Sudanese authorities are launching a new campaign against free expression and media freedom."

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its concern about the fact that journalists in Sudan are constantly under surveillance and exposed to the possibility of arrest. The level of censorship being imposed on the media in the run-up to the 9 January referendum on South Sudan's independence is very disturbing.

Sudan was ranked 172nd out of 178 countries in the 2010 press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders released on 20 October. This was a fall of 24 places from its ranking in last year's index.
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