Khartoum — On the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day celebrated on 3 May, the Sudanese Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms (SODRF) has said that journalists in the country 'continue to face terrible abuses and censorship by authorities'.
For the second year running, Sudan occupies one of the worst positions in the press freedom index 2013 which was published in January by Reporters Without Borders, Sudan ranks 170th out of the 179 countries listed.
SODRF President , Dr Faroukh Mohamed Ibrahim, said that a number of journalists in Sudan have been subjected to assault, beatings, arrests, interrogation, torture and confiscation of their equipment such as cameras, cell phones, and computers. Websites and blogs have also been shut down.
"These developments contribute significantly to the continued decline in the human rights situation in Sudan", Ibrahim noted.
The recently released US "Sudan 2012 Human Rights Report" said that the Sudanese government, including the security forces, continued to arrest and torture journalists. He added that the Sudanese security services' imposed censorship on newspapers is an "unjust violation on the right guaranteed by the Sudanese Interim Constitution for the year 2005".
In its report, the US noted: "The interim national constitution provides for freedom of thought, expression and of the press 'as regulated by law'; however, the government severely restricted these rights."
In a statement, Dr Ibrahim drew attention to the systematic targeting and confiscation by security services of newspapers before and/or after printing. He listed these newspapers as: Al Midan, Al Aahdath, Al Tayyar, Rai Elshab, Al Wan, Al Khartoum, Al Sudani, Al Ahram Al Yoam, Akhbar Alyoam, Ajras Al Hurraya and Al Sahafa. "The chief editor of the latter was dismissed by security organs on 3 May last year," he added.
On the same day, security forces issued instructions to the printing works not to publish the Al Midan newspaper, owned by the Communist Party. The paper has been banned from printing ever since.
"Editors are obliged to fill special security forms including detailed personal data," Dr Ibrahim said. "These obstacles and restrictions aim at influencing the editorial policies of the newspapers."
These claims of censorship are supported in the US Human Rights report: "Authorities frequently subjected newspapers, especially those that were privately owned pro-opposition, to measures that prevented them from reporting on issues deemed sensitive."
The report continued: "Measures included direct prepublication censorship, confiscation of publications, legal proceedings, and denial of state advertising, inflicting financial damage on newspapers that were already pressed due to low circulation."
SODRF's head stressed that "pre-censorship on newspapers is a blow to the right of free expression and opinion as it weakened most of the content the press provided, and reflected negatively on the economic damage to the newspapers' distribution rates".
Confiscating newspapers after printing is designed to inflict loss on the publisher, which indicates that there is an organised campaign aimed at silencing those voices opposed to the regime, Dr Ibrahim said. It also ensures "absence of information on the violations that affect the freedom of expression and human rights alongside news of corruption etc."
With regard to the upcoming Press Act (cross-ref more info needed), he suggested that it is aimed at inflicting further repression and suppression on the freedom of expression and the press: "It's intended for totalitarian grip on press freedom."
UN: 'Most killings of journalists unpunished'
The UN announced that "more than 600 journalists have been killed in the last 10 years, many while reporting in non-conflict situations".
"A climate of impunity persists -nine out of 10 cases of killings of journalists go unpunished," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Director General of Unesco Irina Bokova in a joint statement.
In 2012 alone, Ms. Bokova condemned the killings of 121 journalists, almost twice the annual figures of 2011 and 2010. They also noted how many media workers suffer from intimidation, threats, violence, arbitrary detention and torture, "often without legal recourse".
The Secretary General and Director General called on governments, societies and individuals to do their utmost to protect the safety of all journalists. Freedom of expression, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is essential for empowering individuals and building free and democratic societies, it was stated.
Unesco also noted that "building a culture to support press freedom is generally a lengthy process ... [that] can be lost in a matter of months when negative forces gain control of a country".
Press freedom rights 'not always respected' by government of South Sudan:
In its "South Sudan 2012 Human Rights Report", the US has highlighted that while the transitional Constitution of the country provides for freedom of speech and the press, "the government did not always respect these rights in practice".
While independent media in South Sudan included seven newspapers that were printed regularly, two that were printed less frequently, and seven radio stations. The report states that the government "occasionally attempted to impede criticism by arresting or detaining members of civil society who publicly criticized the government".
It also notes that "members of the media reported engaging in self-censorship out of fear of government retribution."
The US report cites several examples: Two politically focused radio shows on Bakhita Radio went off the air, government officials or individuals close to the government occasionally interfered in the publication of articles, and security forces commonly intimidated or detained journalists whose reporting on security issues was perceived as unfavourable to the military or the government.
Police banned photography in many urban areas or charged for photography permits. Security forces confiscated or damaged journalists' cameras and equipment and restricted their movements, the report said.
'This is a fight for press freedom,' journalist says from jail cell in Juba:
A newspaper editor has been detained in the capital of South Sudan for allegedly inciting violence. The journalist is being held at the Northern Division Police Headquarters in Juba, Radio Tamazuj reports.
Michael Koma is the managing editor of the Juba Monitor, a newspaper formerly known as Khartoum Monitor and headed by Alfred Taban.
The paper last Saturday was informed that the Deputy Minister of Interior Salva Mathok has brought a case against it for publishing a press release by the Nuer community of Mayom County, accusing the official of involvement in a crime.
Koma was informed of the case on Saturday and subsequently summoned to police offices on Monday and Wednesday, but not kept for long. Such repeated summons are a regular practice of security forces in South Sudan.
Upon reporting to the police office at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, Koma was detained and told he would be kept for 24 hours. "The conditions are very horrible," he told Radio Tamazuj in an interview.