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Police in Sudan arrested more than 60 journalists during a protest against media censorship, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and news sources. Riot police armed with canes and shields rounded up the journalists outside parliament on 17 November and took them to a police station. Those detained were subsequently released.

The daily newspaper "Ajras al-Hurriya" and other papers have been increasingly subject to pre-print or "proof" censorship, a practice which began in February, says ARTICLE 19. Sudan's National Security Services visit newspaper houses every day before they go to print and physically remove articles they deem problematic and taboo. Media houses not complying with the censors risk having their publications confiscated and destroyed after they have gone to print.

"Ajras al-Hurriya" and other Khartoum-based papers have led weeks of protests against media censorship in Sudan. The day after the arrests, 10 newspapers suspended publication for day, says CPJ. Early this month, more than 50 Sudanese journalists went on a one-day hunger strike and three papers, including "Ajras al-Hurriya", shut down for three days, report ARTICLE 19 and ANHRI. Columnists have also decided to withdraw their columns in protest.

According to ARTICLE 19, censorship of the print press in Khartoum has largely been centred on the Darfur conflict and the turbulent political relationship with neighbouring Chad. The latest press crackdown appears to be directed at discouraging news reports on the Sudan opposition leaders' summit due to be held on the conflict in Darfur.

Journalist Salah Bab Allah of the Khartoum-based "Al Entibaha" newspaper defied the censorship orders of security forces - and has been held incommunicado, reports ANHRI. The censors had demanded that he remove a story about the outbreak of fever in western Sudan. Bab ignored them and printed it on the front page.

The former southern rebels, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), have condemned the arrests - and have removed its officers working in the press department of the security forces in protest.

The 2005 peace agreement that brought an end to Sudan's north-south civil war is meant to uphold freedom of expression and the press. ANHRI, ARTICLE 19, CPJ and IFJ are urging the Sudanese authorities to guarantee media freedom as promised in the agreement.

ANHRI said, "We add our voice to the voices of the Sudanese journalists in their collective protest against proof censorship, and we demand the Sudanese Journalists Union take up its role in defence of freedom of the press and the protection of journalists."

Visit these links:
- CPJ:
- IFJ:
- BBC:
(Image of censored paper courtesy of ARTICLE 19)

(19 November 2008)

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