Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed by a new crackdown on the Sudanese media, which has included arrests, attacks on journalists, publications bans and Internet cuts. The crackdown has been prompted by a nine-day-old wave of anti-government protests that were triggered by food and fuel price hikes.
The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) has done everything possible to prevent journalists from covering the protests, in which 19 people have been killed in clashes with the security forces, according to the authorities - and at least 37, according to Amnesty International.
Nine journalists were briefly arrested yesterday by the NISS while gathered outside the headquarters of the newspaper Al-Tayar in protest against this harassment of the media. Earlier yesterday, the Sudanese Journalists Network called for a three-day strike. Around ten reporters were also briefly arrested by the NISS on 25 December.
On that same day, three journalists were physically attacked by members of the security forces. Two - Al Jazeera correspondent Ahmed Alrehaid and Al-Tayar editor Khalid Fathi - were injured while covering protests. The third, Al-Sudani editor Yassir Abdallah, received several blows to the face as he was forcibly taken away in car after a NISS raid on the newspaper. RSF has learned the security forces also tried to storm the offices of two other newspapers, Al-Tayar and Al-Mustaqila.
To prevent journalists from working and to limit the flow of information, a total of four newspaper issues were confiscated from 20 to 25 December. Arab TV correspondent Adnan Jan was given 24 hours to leave the country on 26 December. The authorities have also been responsible for major Internet service disruptions, according to two NGOs, NetBlocks and Access Now. Accessing social networks has been very hard since 18 December.
"If the Sudanese authorities had wanted to turn their country into black hole from which no news and information escaped, they would not have gone about it any other way," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "The NISS is no longer content to act as an editorial police, arbitrarily imposing red lines that journalists cannot cross. Now the NISS is arresting journalists, roughing them up and preventing information from circulating. We are alarmed by the scale of this crackdown on the media and on journalists who are just doing their job to cover a major domestic news story."
Charter placing subjects off limits
The NISS temporarily stopped censoring Sudan's newspaper two months ago in exchange for the signing of a media "charter" by editors on 1 November. Called a "Charter of Honour", it bans the publication of any information about Sudan's "regular forces" that is not provided by the force concerned. It also bans reporting on Sudan's relations with its neighbours.
But this respite did not last long and on 20 December the NISS warned the media against any coverage of the protests that had just begun. Printing presses were also ordered not to print anything without prior permission from the NISS.
According to RSF's tally, there have been a total of 52 arbitrary seizures of newspaper issues since the start of the year in Sudan, which is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.