- The international rights group Human Rights Watch has urged the Sudanese legislators to make major changes to a draft press law before the national assembly, saying current version retains many repressive provisions.
Human Rights Watch said these revisions are needed to bring Sudan's laws into line with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and to create an environment for free and fair elections, now slated for February 2010.
Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch said the revision of the draft press act is a critical step in the law reform process. "The government's pre-print censorship, harassment, and arrests of journalists, editors, and human rights activists are stifling free speech as Sudan faces crucial elections,” he said.
Local reports said the measures which maintain the press under government control include strict media registration rules, vague reporting prohibitions, a National Press Council controlled by the president with broad regulatory powers, and heavy fines and criminal sanctions for media outlets and journalists.
According to the rights organisation, the Sudanese government has stepped up harsh censorship practices against media over the past year, particularly after the rebel Justice and Equality Movement attack on Khartoum in May 2008.
“Sudanese security services have also cracked down on those who criticise the government or who have spoken out in support of international justice following the issuance of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on 4 March 2009,” HRW statement said.
Human Rights Watch has also expressed concerns over the draft law which contains powers for security services to detain individuals for up to one month without judicial review. “This is in contravention of international standards that require individuals arrested to be promptly brought before a judge,” the international rights organisation said.
The organisation further called on the government to ensure that all revised laws, which will include amendments to Sudan's criminal code, comply with international human rights standards.
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