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New press law will lead to "more suppression"

Sudan's approval of a new press law "is a severe strike" against press freedom in Sudan and is "paving the way for more suppression," says the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI). Other IFEX members, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), ARTICLE 19, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have also expressed concern about the law.

Despite the amendments made by parliament on some articles that cancelled the imprisonment of journalists for their work, the remaining articles are "oppressive," says ANHRI.

For instance, the law gives the National Press and Publication Council (NPPC), a body closely tied to the President's office, the power to shut down newspapers for three days without a court decision.

Although the press council no longer has the authority to fine newspapers and journalists up to a maximum of 50,000 Sudanese Pounds (US$21,000), this right has been passed on to the judiciary with no maximum limits for fines, says ANHRI.

According to CPJ, after multiple rounds of debate and 15 amendments, parliament passed the controversial bill unanimously. A CPJ analysis‎‏‎ found numerous shortcomings in the press bill, which was introduced to the Sudanese National Assembly in April.

"The passage of this press law is a substantial step backward for press freedom in Sudan, despite some last-minute amendments that mitigate some of the more draconian elements of the legislation," said CPJ.

The press law also states that no restrictions will be placed on freedom of the press except on "issues pertaining to safeguarding the national security and public order and health." But local journalists told CPJ that a 1999 law grants security forces significant powers over the media, which in practice has allowed them to censor newspapers.‎

Already, the situation for print journalists in Sudan is dire. In February 2008, censorship increased after media accused the Sudanese government of supporting a failed coup in neighbouring Chad. Such repressive tactics have only worsened since the International Criminal Court issued its arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, CPJ reports.

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.

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