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Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Sudan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2004
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Sudan, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566bbc.html [accessed 17 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

With more than a dozen private dailies and one government daily, Sudan's print press is surprisingly diverse. Though some private papers are pro-government, many report aggressively on government policies. The state controls all television and radio stations.

Rebel leaders and the Sudanese government moved closer in 2003 to an agreement to end their bloody 20-year civil war. Over the years, the government's main concern regarding the media has been to control what is written about the war. Negative accounts of the government's role in the conflict can result in an array of punishments under the country's restrictive press law. Journalists covering the conflict have had to contend with pressures from government security officials, who have made harassing phone calls, detained journalists, and confiscated publications.

According to local journalists, the government still objects to negative portrayals of the military. However, in August, President Omar al-Bashir announced an end to secu-rity censorship – which means that the security services can no longer question journalists, confiscate publications, or direct newspaper coverage, though they can ask prosecutors to sanction the media. Since this announcement, the daily opinion pages have become livelier. Journalists now regularly conduct interviews with the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) leader John Garang. The press also regularly interviews Dr. Hasan al-Turabi, an ex-Parliament speaker and former close ally of the president who was released from house arrest in October. Al-Turabi was arrested on charges of committing crimes against the state in 2001 because he negotiated with the SPLA.

Enforcement of the press law is mainly the responsibility of a government agency called the National Press Council (NPC). Over the years, the NPC has usually punished press law violators by suspending the offending newspaper for a few days. Newspapers can be suspended for anything from criticizing the government to publishing articles considered harmful to public morals. The NPC is composed of journalists, Parliament members, and presidential appointees.

The English-language Khartoum Monitor, a small-circulation daily that has frequently endured government pressure, was not spared in 2003. In March, the security services briefly detained Khartoum Monitor reporter Edward Lado Terso for an article he had written claiming that the history of Islam in Sudan was not always peaceful.

Two months later, a Khartoum criminal court suspended the Khartoum Monitor for two months. The paper was originally charged with inciting hatred by allegedly misquoting the Quran, said Nhial Bol, the paper's editor. But during the trial, the judge produced a document that purported to prove that the Monitor had not paid a fine levied on it by a court in January 2002. Bol said an appeals court had overturned the fine. Following the court's decision to suspend the paper, Bol received a letter from the NPC claiming that the suspension was due to the original charge of misquoting the Quran.

The day after the Monitor reopened in July, another Khartoum criminal court suspended the paper's license because it had allegedly published false information. The charges stemmed from a series of articles about the existence of slavery in southern Sudan. In late August, an appeals court rescinded the suspension ruling, but before the paper could reopen, the prosecutor for crimes against the state interjected and ordered that the paper remain closed while he investigated the publication for what he called threats to national stability. The prosecutor general intervened in October and allowed the Monitor to reopen and resume publishing. In late November, however, the prosecutor for crimes against the state reimposed the suspension pending further investigation. According to the government, the newspaper "rebels against all that could bring stability to this homeland, and its continuation does not serve peace and causes a threat to society and an outstanding threat to the individual."

The prosecutor for crimes against the state, who is under the authority of the Justice Ministry and handles terrorism cases and trials of government opponents, was behind the suspension of three other private dailies: Alwan, Al-Azminah, and Al-Ayam. Alwan was suspended for a month in early September after the prosecutor said the paper's reports had incited violence against the government but gave no specifics. The pro-government Al-Azminah was suspended in late September after it published an article saying that the Popular Defense Forces, an Islamist militia allied with the army, would be disbanded under an agreement between the government and rebels. The paper began publishing again in October. The independent daily Al-Ayam was suspended for six days in November and indefinitely in early December. The prosecutor accused the paper of publishing false information about fighting between rebels and the army.

Al-Sahafa, one of Sudan's more popular dailies, ran into trouble with authorities in 2003. Security agents twice detained without charge Youssef al-Bashir Moussa, a contributor to Al-Sahafa who is based in western Sudan's Darfur State, where the army and rebels have clashed. Both of his detentions came after he wrote articles about the civil war. On July 28, the day after Moussa was detained the second time, security forces confiscated an issue of the paper. The issue contained an article about talks between rebels and the government in Darfur at a time when the level of fighting in the state had intensified. In October, the NPC suspended Al-Sahafa for three days after the paper ran an advertisement for Ethiopian Airlines that mentioned the wine served on its flights. The NPC took issue with the newspaper for advertising alcohol, which is banned in Sudan.

In December, security forces closed the office of the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera and detained its correspondent Islam Salih for about five days. According to Al-Jazeera, Sudanese authorities had complained that Salih's reporting was biased against Sudan and wanted him replaced.


2003 Documented Cases – Sudan

MARCH 9, 2003

Khartoum Monitor
CENSORED

Nhial Bol, Khartoum Monitor
Edward Lado Terso, Khartoum Monitor
HARASSED

Sudan's General Security Service (GSS) confiscated the March 9 issue of the Khartoum Monitor at its printer before distribution and summoned the paper's editor, Bol, and reporter Lado to GSS offices for questioning. According to Bol, he went to the offices for questioning but Lado did not. Two days later, Lado was detained, apparently in connection with the March 9 issue, Bol told CPJ. Bol suspects that the paper's confiscation and Lado's detention stem from a March 9 article he wrote claiming that the history of Islam in Sudan is not peaceful, and that the religion destroyed some civilizations.

According to Bol, Khartoum Monitor editors regularly receive directives from security agents not to write about certain topics, including the country's civil war, areas where conflict is occurring, the current talks in Kenya between the government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, and the opposition Popular National Congress.

MARCH 11, 2003

Edward Lado Terso, Khartoum Monitor
LEGAL ACTION, CENSORED

Lado, a reporter for the English-language daily Khartoum Monitor, was detained by agents from the General Security Service (GSS). Khartoum Monitor Editor Nhial Bol told CPJ that the agents took Lado into custody at around 12 p.m. at the newspaper's offices in the capita, Khartoum. Agents did not give a reason for Lado's detention, but when Bol contacted authorities to inquire about his employee's status, they told him that the detention was unrelated to Lado's work at the Monitor.

Bol has not been notified of Lado's whereabouts or of any charges against him, though authorities told Bol that they were holding Lado for questioning. Bol suspects that Lado's detention stems from a March 9 article he wrote claiming that the history of Islam in Sudan is not peaceful, and that the religion destroyed some civilizations. That day, the GSS confiscated that issue of the paper at the printer before distribution. The same afternoon, Bol and Lado were summoned to the GSS offices for questioning. According to Bol, although he appeared for questioning, Lado did not.

Bol told CPJ that the paper's editors regularly receive directives from security agents not to write about certain topics, including the civil war, areas where conflict is occurring, the current talks in Kenya between the government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, and the opposition Popular National Congress.

MAY 4, 2003

Yousef al-Bashir Moussa, Al-Sahafa
IMPRISONED

Noureddin Madani, editor of the daily Al-Sahafa, told CPJ that Moussa, the newspaper's correspondent in the city of Nyala (about 800 miles southwest of the capital, Khartoum), was arrested a few days after he reported that the Sudanese president was considering firing the governors of the three states of Darfur, a region in western Sudan.

Darfur has been the scene of recent fighting between government and rebel forces, which have been in a civil war for 20 years. The Sudanese government is wary of journalists reporting on the conflict, which pits the Muslim-dominated government of the north against Christian and animist rebels in the south. Moussa has not been officially charged but has remained in detention since his arrest.

MAY 9, 2003

Khartoum Monitor
LEGAL ACTION, CENSORED

Nhial Bol, Khartoum Monitor
HARASSED

A Khartoum court suspended the English-language daily Khartoum Monitor, according to Bol, the editor. Initially, a state prosecutor charged the paper with "inciting hatred" for an article that allegedly misquoted the Koran. The court fined it 1 million Sudanese pounds (about US$400).

During the proceedings, Bol said, the judge produced a document saying that the paper had not paid a 15 million pound (US$7,000) fine stemming from a January 2002 court decision and ordered the paper closed. But according to Bol, an appeals court had already overturned the January 2002 fine.

Bol, who spent that night in prison because he could not pay the 1 million pound fine, returned the next day to the newspaper's offices to find security agents there. They told him that the Khartoum Monitor could not continue publishing. Bol told CPJ that he received a letter on May 13 from the National Press Council notifying him that the paper was closed for "misquoting the Holy Koran." He said he will appeal the ruling.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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