February 11, 2011

Sudan communist journalists arrested

Sudan Tribune
February 3, 2011

Sudan has arrested a group of journalists working for a newspaper affiliated to the opposition Communist Party, drawing rebuke from Amnesty International which described the action as “a blatant attempt to stifle free speech.”

Al-Maydan, the weekly mouthpiece of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), had nine of its staff members snatched by armed agents of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Forces (NISS) as they were leaving the paper’s office in Khartoum 2 area on Wednesday night.

Four of the detained journalists were released hours later, Sudan Tribune has learned, while the rest are being held incommunicado and their whereabouts is not known.

Sudan stepped up censorship of newspapers in the wake of anti-government protests which erupted on Sunday in response to a campaign organized online by youth groups encouraged by the ongoing events in Egypt and January’s uprising in Tunisia.

Al-Maydan already had copies of its Tuesday’s edition confiscated for containing reports on the protests. On Monday, NISS agents also confiscated copies of the independent daily Al-Sahafah and Ajrass al-Hurriyah, which is linked to the SPLM, for reporting on the protests.

The SCP issued a press release in which it denounced the action as “a stealth coup against all the constitutional provisions governing political rivalry”, and demanded the immediate release of the paper’s staff.

Amjad Farid Idris, a prominent young member of SCP, told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday that the arrest of Al-Maydan’s journalists was part of “the regime’s attempts to curtail the already-tight margin of freedom and halt the paper’s publication in order to close another window of communication between political forces and the public.”

He further warned that by doing so the government was “digging its own grave and pushing for confrontation with the people.”

The global human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Thursday chided the government for its action and urged the immediate release of the detainees.

“The Sudanese government must immediately release all those detained during this blatant attempt to stifle free speech,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa Program director.

“The people of Sudan have every right to peaceful protest without fear of arrest, assault and harassment. And the media have every right to freely report these events,” he added.

In recent years, Sudan introduced what is known as the pre-printing censorship system under which NISS agents visit offices of newspapers at night to screen draft editions and expunge contents deemed anti-government.

Sudan occupies a low rank of 172 out of 178 in the world press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders.

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