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Post-split, governments silencing voices

A young radio presenter goes live at a local radio station in Turalei, South Sudan. Some journalists say the media landscape there looks
A young radio presenter goes live at a local radio station in Turalei, South Sudan. Some journalists say the media landscape there looks "disturbingly familiar"

Siegfried Modola/IRIN

Just a few hours before South Sudan's independence, the popular Arabic daily "Ajras Al-Hurriya" and five English-language newspapers were suspended - a worrying start to the relationship between north and south, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Index on Censorship.

Sudan's National Press and Publication Council said the papers were closed because the owners and publishers are from South Sudan, and, under the country's Press Law, they must have Sudanese nationality, reports ANHRI.

The other suspended papers are "Khartoum Monitor", "Juba Post", "Sudan Tribune", "The Advocate" and "The Democrat".

According to Index correspondent Abdelgadir Mohammed Abdelgadir, most newspapers in South Sudan are foreign-owned and operated, some in partnership with Southerners. But, he noted, regardless of ownership, "all the banned papers criticised the government and reported on corruption and human rights violations."

"Arjas Al-Hurriya" in particular reported on violations and crimes of war committed by the Sudanese Army Forces (SAF) and National Intelligences and Security Services (NISS) in South Kordufan and Nuba Mountains last month, he said. The paper was taken out of circulation five times in June, out of a total of nine times since the beginning of this year.

"With this new repression strategy, the government of Sudan is working to silence critical voices and establish a single pro-government line in the media," said Abdelgadir.

In the run up to the split, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accused Khartoum of harassing and prosecuting journalists in an attempt to stop them from reporting on human rights violations by security forces.

"While the international community and media have their attention turned to South Sudan's future independence and the fighting in Abyei and South Kordofan, the human rights and media freedom situation continues to be very worrying in the north," RSF said at the time.

Some journalists fear much tighter restrictions on press freedom under a new constitution in the north, where the government has also threatened to reinforce Sharia, or Islamic law, says RSF.

Last week, a Sudanese journalist was jailed for a month and her editor fined for publishing reports on the alleged rape of a female opposition activist by security force personnel, report RSF, Index and ANHRI.

Fatima Ghazali is the first of several journalists to be tried for articles she wrote about Safiya Ishaq, a youth activist who claimed in videos posted online that she was raped repeatedly by three security officers after her arrest in Khartoum in February.

Ghazali was convicted of publishing lies and ordered to pay a fine of 2,000 Sudanese pounds (US$620) or spend a month in prison, her lawyer told reporters. She chose jail.

Saad al-Din Ibrahim, her editor-in-chief at the Sudanese daily "Al-Jarida", was ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 Sudanese pounds.

Six other journalists and editors who have been charged with the same offence are waiting for their cases to be heard.

Meanwhile, what is happening in the media landscape in South Sudan looks "disturbingly familiar," journalists told "Al Jazeera". Six months since the population voted overwhelmingly for independence, local journalists said they are facing the same challenges as they did under the control of Khartoum - raids on media houses, arrests, intimidation and other restrictions on media freedom.

South Sudanese journalists say they are continuing to ensure the space for independent media is carved out under the new constitution and media laws of the world's newest country.

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