16 May 2013

Sudan Officially Lifts Pre-Publication Censorship

Khartoum — The Sudanese authorities have officially began implementing the directives of 1st Vice President Ali Osman Taha to lift direct pre-publication censorship on newspapers.

Taha disclosed his orders on Wednesday which he said were effective immediately but officers from Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) banned newspapers from publishing this portion of the VP's remarks.

The Sudanese National Council for Press and Publications today welcomed the government's decision and noted that they are understanding of the circumstances that prompted the imposition of censorship in the past.

The pro-government body said that Khartoum wanted to prevent the publication of items affecting the country's security and movement of the army in operations and conflict zones which has the potential of weakening the internal front and providing a platform for hostile forces to exploit the press through disseminating disincentives and misinformation that would have a negative impact on public opinion.

"But in spite of all that the Council has always advocated lifting of pre-publication censorship on the press in accordance with the principle of freedom of expression and press freedom within the framework of social responsibility and betting on the ability of the journalism community to strike the required balance between freedom and responsibility" the statement said.

Pre-publication press censorship in Sudan has been on and off over the last few years and allowed NISS agents to direct items that cannot be published in newspapers or even decide what makes it to the front page.

Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir in the past has expressed uneasiness over lifting censorship and warned newspapers not to cross what he described as "red lines".

In an interview last year the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV, Bashir said that he will not allow newspapers to publish item deemed insulting to the army and defended closures of some at the hands of the NISS.

"If we look at the two newspapers closed down there were objective reasons for security organs to intervene and shut down these newspapers" Bashir said.

"We are now fighting and we have an army battling. Any [negative] comments on the spirits of the armed forces or attacking the armed forces or endangering national security; no state accepts prejudice to its national security," he added.

Last year Sudan shut down three newspapers including the independent al-Tayar newspaper and two Islamist newspapers - Alwan and al-Rai al-Shaab.

In 2010 Sudan suspended the broadcasts of the BBC Arabic on FM radio and also revoked license of Monte Carlo, the Arabic service of Radio France Internationale (RFI) which also used FM airwaves in Sudan.

Last month, Sudanese authorities forced the Editor-in-chief of Al-Sahafa daily newspaper Al-Nur Ahmed Al-Nur to resign without providing any reasons. They warned that if he does not comply they will shut down the entire newspaper.

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