Sudan asked to end "crackdown on press"

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afrol News, 11 September - During the last month, the Sudanese government has increased its crackdown on the independent press, confiscating the daily editions of several newspapers. Especially, negative comments on the government's pullout from the peace talks with the southern rebels had not been accepted.

In the past week, the government's National Press Council (NPC) has confiscated entire daily editions of three newspapers. Security forces called the editors in for questioning, demanding that they stop printing articles critical of government decisions. 

The Security Forces also arrested Osman Mergani, a journalist with Al Ra'i Al A'am, an Arabic-language newspaper, on 3 September, and held and questioned him for two days. Mr Mergani had criticized the government pullout from the Machakos peace talks on Al Jazeera international television on 3 September. 

The Sudanese government announced on 1 September this year that it was withdrawing from internationally-sponsored talks with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in Machakos, Kenya. This decision has been criticised by several members of the independent press.

On 4 September, the NPC targeted the English-language Khartoum Monitor and the Arabic-language Al-Horiyah, confiscating issues and interrogating editors. These newspapers had criticised the decision to pull out of negotiations with the rebel SPLM/A in Kenya. 

The Monitor had also run a story featuring the Dinka of Abyei, who were pressing in the peace talks that their town be included in the south. The government wants it included in northern Sudan and was not happy about the leak in the press. 

The crackdown on The Monitor came on the heels of a July decision to heavily fine The Monitor for other articles unpopular with government officials. 

On 5 September, the NPC moved against another Arabic-language newspaper, Al Sahafa. Government authorities confiscated the newspaper's entire press run after it had published a piece critical of the government withdrawal from the Machakos negotiations.

The government of Sudan "should end its recent crackdown on the press," the US-based group Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the Sudanese president today. "The Sudanese government is cracking down on people who criticize its pullout from the peace negotiations," denounced Jemera Rone of the group. "This represents a real deterioration in human rights in Sudan."

According to the 2002 annual report of the French group Reporters sans frontières (RSF), the situation of the press in Sudan is harsh. Against a background of conflicting interests between political clans, the independent press had "suffered constant pressure from the government" in 2001. The only English-language daily in the country had been censored several times during that year and over 30 journalists were arrested for addressing sensitive topics such as corruption or the Khartoum government's policies in the south of the country, RSF writes.

Sources: Based on Human Rights Watch, RSF and afrol archives

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