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Authorities restore censorship; RSF condemns "illegal and saddening" decision

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is an RSF press release:

Restoration of censorship condemned as "illegal and saddening"

Reporters Without Borders deplores the censorship and harassment to which Sudan's privately-owned media have been subjected since the start of the year. Arrests, summonses, threats and outright bans on certain news items - the campaign waged by the government against the independent press is reducing the space for free expression even more.

"It should be an honour for Sudan to let the many Khartoum-based daily newspapers operate freely and express a wide range of views," the press freedom organisation said. "But no, the authorities have instead chosen to send zealous censors to the printers, people without authority, legitimacy or clear ideas. This censorship is not only illegal, it is also saddening."

The government decided to reestablish censorship for the privately-owned media on 6 February 2008 after the media referred on several occasions to the support the government was providing for a Chadian rebel offensive against the Chadian capital of N'Djamena. An unidentified official with the National Security Service (NSS) told Reuters on 6 March that prior censorship had been reintroduced, confirming the impression already reached by the Khartoum-based press after a month of harassment by the political police.

According to journalists quoted by Reuters, NSS officials began on 6 February to descend on the offices of newspapers every evening to check the content of the next day's issue before it went to press. On 10 February, for example, the police suppressed an article by Haider al-Mikashfy in the Arabic-language daily Al-Sahafa about a recent speech by NSS chief Salah Gosh accusing some journalists of working for "foreign embassies" and warning that "investigations" were under way.

In the latest example of this permanent surveillance, NSS officials burst into the printing works of the privately-owned weekly Al-Midan on 3 March and forced employees to remove two reports from the next issue. One was about the acquittal of its editor, Al-Tijani Al-Tayyib Babiker, on charges of "disturbing the peace." The other referred to a decision by an armed group in Darfur to open an office in Israel. In response, the weekly's staff decided to delay publication, and the issue did not appear until 5 March.

Before that, two NSS members burst into Al-Midan's printing works on 26 February and partially censored two articles about the use of torture on detainees in Sudan.

A total of seven journalists from five newspapers were questioned on 18 and 19 February for publishing reports about a reshuffle in top positions in the police force. The first two to be questioned were Al-Ahdath editor Adil Al-Baz and Al-Watan editor Ahmed Khalifa, who were interrogated on 18 February and held overnight.

The next day, five more were summoned for questioning. They were Al-Wifaq news editor Mohammed Said al-Tayeb, Akher Lahza editor Moustapha Abou Al-Alalem and one of his journalists, Mey Ali Adem, and Al-Rai al-Aam editor Kamal Hassan Bakhit and one of his journalists, Hafiz al-Khayr. All seven were released on bail on 19 February.

On 14 February, the security forces prevented the privately-owned daily Al-Rai al-Shaab from publishing after it referred to the government's support for the Chadian rebels.

Censorship was officially lifted in Sudan in July 2005 after a peace accord was signed with the rebels of the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

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