Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Sudanese press under siege

Press freedoms are down to zero in Bashir’s Sudan, writes Asmaa El-Husseini

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Sudanese culture minister has closed down the Centre for Sudanese Studies, run by prominent thinker Haydar Ibrahim, claiming that it posed a threat to national security. The Sudanese authorities may be planning to close down more research centres, civil society organisations, and human rights groups. The only forums that are immune to closure are those affiliated with the government.

One such forum is the newspaper Intibah, whose reporting is seen as instrumental in the breakup of Sudan. The Sudanese government, for all its alleged concern about national security, doesn’t see a point in closing down a newspaper that is specialised in racial slurs and adamant in rejecting religious and cultural plurality.

The one time when Khartoum took action on Intibah was when Libya’s Gaddafi objected to an article about him, which led to a temporary suspension of the publication.

The Centre for Sudanese Studies, an institution that has played a major role in disseminating research and promoting knowledge, was subjected to various forms of harassment before it was finally shut down.

A similar fate awaits other institutions that seek to promote peace and understanding in Sudan. Media organisations, civil society groups, and political parties are all prone to similar measures.

The diminishing opportunity for dialogue is perilous, for it leaves the opposition with no option but to take up arms, a prospect that may lead to further fragmentation of Sudan.

The government’s current policies run in the face of “attractive unity”, a term that appeared in Sudanese politics a decade ago. The term was meant to create a society that is more inclusive, a country where people don’t need to secede in order to be free.

The government’s worst transgressions are against the media. According to Reporters without Borders, Sudan is now number 170 in terms of a free press, on a list that has 179 countries in total.

Several newspapers have been closed down, including Al-Tayyar, Ray Al-Shaab, and Agras Al-Horreya. Others are being repeatedly confiscated, including Al-Garida and Al-Midan.

More than 17 writers and journalists have been banned from work, including Haydar Al-Mekashfi, Zoheir Al-Sarrag, Fayez Al-Seleik, Rasha Awad and Khaled Fadl. Others have been referred to trial, including Faisal Saleh, Omar Al-Qoray, Fayez Al-Seslik, Amal Habbani and Fatema Ghazali. Some have been tortured, including Anwar Awad, who suffered a fracture in the neck and injury to the ear, and Abazer Al-Amin, who was detained and tortured while awaiting trial.

Other means of restricting the freedom of the press include the purchase of newspapers by businessmen with close connections to the ruling National Congress Party. The government also uses advertising to manipulate the press, offering it to friendly newspapers and denying it to less friendly ones.

In addition, the government uses its control of printing supplies and of taxation to make life harder for publications that dare to publish material that the government deems offensive.

Unable to withstand the harassment, some publications have voluntarily shut down, including Al-Ahdath. The government is also subjecting the press to prior censorship, a rare form of censorship in which the censor must approve material in advance, before the paper goes to press.

To make things worse, journalists have no association to defend them. The only association for journalists in the country is controlled by the government.

Mahgoub Saleh, a respected journalist with a career spanning 60 years in the press, described the current situation as the “worst days of the Sudanese press”.

Ali Shamu, chief of the government-affiliated National Council of Journalism, agrees with this assessment, and says that he is thinking of resigning.

Cyberspace has become more attractive to journalists, but even there, they are not totally free from harassment. The government has blocked several websites including sudaneseonline and alrakoba.

The lack of press freedom augurs bad for Sudan, for it leaves the opposition with no other option but to bear arms. Had Sudan had press freedom before the secession of South Sudan, had its press been free to air the grievances of minorities, things may have turned out differently.

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