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Authorities block elections monitoring website

(RSF/IFEX) - Access to the Sudan Vote Monitor website ( http://www.sudanvotemonitor.com ), a collaborative platform created by Sudanese civil society with the aim of facilitating independent monitoring and reporting of the current elections and their results, has been partially or totally blocked for the past six days.

The elections, which began on 11 April 2010 and which are the first multiparty general elections in Sudan since 1986, have been marked by allegations of irregularities.

"We demand the immediate and total unblocking of this website, which is used by NGOs, journalists and ordinary citizens to report fraud and irregularities in these historic elections," Reporters Without Borders said. "Respect for freedom of expression is an essential condition for the holding of free and fair elections."

The press freedom organisation added: "At time when criticism is coming from all quarters, this act of censorship is reinforcing doubts about the transparency of these elections. It sets a dangerous precedent for other upcoming votes, such as the crucial referendum on self-determination for the south that is supposed to be held by next January."

When connections are working properly, Sudanese citizens are able to send information to the Sudan Vote Monitor by going to the website, or by sending email or SMS messages. Visitors to the site can upload videos and establish links to social networks or to sites such as http://www.SudanTribune.com .

According to one of the site's spokesmen, Fareed Zein: "our technology is the closest thing to a real-time snapshot of what is happening on the ground during the elections. Users will have access to up-to-date information including streaming videos from all over Sudan, everywhere from an election centre in Khartoum to a polling station in Juba, or a remote corner of the country."

Operated by various Sudanese NGOs such as Sudan Vote Monitor and the Asmaa Society for Development, Sudan Vote Monitor uses volunteers and open source software provided by Ushahidi ( http://www.ushahidi.com ) that allows distributed data to be gathered and visualized on a map or timeline. Created in 2008 to enable Kenyans to locate post-election violence, the Ushahidi platform has since been used in other countries such as Haiti to assist post-earthquake relief work.

Ushahidi was the recent winner in the Best Webblog category of the Best of the Blogs competition organised by Deutsche Welle in partnership with Reporters Without Borders ( http://www.thebobs.com ).

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