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Government announces lifting of restrictions on printed press

(ANHRI/IFEX) - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) welcomed a decision recently announced by Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir, to lift one of the state's practices aimed at "controlling" newspapers. The president was referring to the practice of intelligence officers visiting newsrooms each evening to review newspaper content, eliminating articles that were considered "quite sensitive".

This will be a positive step for press freedom, ANHRI noted, if it is implemented without any changes or conditions.

The general security service held a meeting with newspaper editors-in-chief to discuss the lifting of this practice. Some of the editors-in-chief refused to sign a charter that was handed to them during the meeting, saying it had been dictated by the government and that they had had no part in drafting it. Others signed a charter applying only to the printed press and not to national television.

A number of Sudanese reporters told ANHRI that the government was trying to improve its public image with presidential elections looming for the first time in 25 years. "The government's aim is to appear as a supporter of freedoms to cover up for its international embarrassment after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Al Bashir, accusing him of committing war crimes in Darfur."

There are about thirty daily newspapers in Sudan (in Arabic and English), reflecting different political orientations, including Communist, Islamist and pro-government. The Sudanese Parliament, dominated by the ruling party, issued a new press law in June 2009, that contained vague articles about causing ethnic, religious or racial agitation or inciting violence and armed conflict. The law forces papers to "respect religious values and public morals". If a paper fails to do so, reporters will face fines specified by the court and the security service has the authority to close down the paper for up to three days without court permission.

ANHRI calls on the Sudanese government to make a serious effort to lift its control over the print media. It also calls for the government decision to be amended to include radio and TV stations so they can also benefit from the recent lifting of the restrictions.

ANHRI hopes that the government's decision is not just a pre-election promise but that it will mark the beginning of a new phase of endorsing basic freedoms that have been absent from Sudan for a long time, such as freedom of expression and assembly, the right to demonstrate peacefully, and hold peaceful congregations, and the right of political opposition groups to speak without restrictions.

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