Sudan: Nation Tightens Press Gag After Anti-Government Protests

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Nairobi — Sudan has once again intensified censorship of local newspapers, confiscating copies of two dailies and threatening another with suspension for carrying reports on anti-government protests which broke out on Sunday against worsening economic conditions and political repression.

Sudanese youth inspired by the recent Tunisian revolution and the unfolding protests in Egypt have actively utilized online media outlets - mainly the social networking website Facebook - to mobilize for anti-government demonstrations on Sunday.

Hundreds of young protesters took to the streets in sporadic areas in Khartoum and other towns on Sunday, chanting slogans against oppression and calling on President Al-Bashir to step down.

Sudanese anti-riot police used batons and teargas to break up the demonstrators, arresting dozens of them, including some media professionals covering the events.

Sources speaking on condition of anonymity to Sudan Tribune said that Sudanese authorities confiscated in the early hours of Monday copies of the daily newspaper Ajrass al-Hurriyah, which is linked to the SPLM's in south Sudan, and the independent daily Al-Sahafah.

The copies were seized by Sudan's security agents as they were coming out of the printing press and getting ready for distribution.

Ajrass al-Hurriyah is one of the papers most targeted by censorship. The title was forced to suspend publication on numerous occasions in the past due to excessive censorship of its contents.

Most recently on Thursday, January 20, Ajrass al-Hurriyah had its copies confiscated by security agents after the paper was already printed.

Also, the sources said that another independent daily, which they declined to identify for fears of reprisal, was threatened with suspension by agents of the country's National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) if it published reports on the protests.

Few pro-government publications carried reports on the protests, with some downplaying them as "limited rioting", as described by the government itself.

In recent years, Sudan stepped up what is known as the pre-printing censorship system under which NISS agents visit offices of newspapers at night to screen draft editions and expunge contents deemed anti-government.

In a related development, the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RWB) on Monday condemned the Sudanese government for arresting journalists while covering the protests.

"We condemn the wish of the Khartoum government to censor news by intimidating journalists and dissuading them from covering protest movements," RWB said.

RWB said that among the journalists arrested during Sunday's protests are Hamza Baloul, correspondent of the Qatari newspaper Alsharq, Sarah Tag of the newspaper Alsahafa, Ali Haj Al-amin of Ajras Alhurrya, Hussein Khogali, editor of the daily Al-Wan, and Mohamed Amir Musa, from the Turkish news agency Al-ikhlas.

Similarly, the Arab Network of Human Rights Information denounced the "continuation of hostilities and confiscation practiced by the Sudanese government against general and press freedom."

Presently, two Sudanese journalists from eastern Sudan region are standing trial in the capital for publishing an article saying that the continued marginalization of the region may give rise to calls for self-determination.

Last year, Sudan closed down the daily newspaper Ra'y Al-Sha'b and sentenced its journalist Abu Zar al-Amin to five years in prison for publishing a report alleging that members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards had setup a weapon factory in Khartoum to supply arms to Somali insurgents and Shi'ah rebels in Yemen.

In November 2008, Sudan arrested over 70 journalists who protested outside the national parliament against censorship.

Sudan is ranked as 172 out of 178 in RWB's world press freedom index.

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