Freedom of expression in Sudan has been severely restricted over the past year.
In the run-up to January's referendum on self-determination of southern Sudan, an ongoing clampdown sees journalists at risk and intimidated.
Following the April 2010 general elections, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) clamped down on freedom of expression. On 18 May, the NISS director resumed the pre-print censorship on newspapers which was removed by presidential decree in September 2009. In the north, the NISS closed down newspapers and journalists were stopped from carrying out their work.
A number of journalists were arrested with some reportedly tortured for carrying out their work or expressing their opinions.
Among the newspapers that suffered from the clampdown, is Rai Al Shaab, which is affiliated with the opposition Popular Congress Party. In May, five staff members were arrested by the NISS. Their arrests were reportedly in relation to several articles published in Rai Al Shaab, including an analysis of the April 2010 elections.
While two of Rai Al Shaab’s staff members were released, Abuzar Al Amin, deputy editor in chief, was tortured and ill-treated while in incommunicado detention, where he was interrogated about his work as a journalist. He has been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for undermining the constitutional system and publishing false news.
Ashraf Abdelaziz, editor, and Al Tahir Abu Jawhara, head of the political news desk, were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment under article 26 of the 2009 Press and Publications Act and article 66 of the 1991 Criminal Act, for publishing false news.
Amnesty International considers all three people prisoners of conscience who should be immediately and unconditionally released.
The pre-print censorship of newspapers in Sudan was removed on 7 August. While the news was welcomed by journalists, it was also met with reservations. The NISS director warned journalists that despite the removal of the censorship, they had to abide by the “code of journalistic honour” and warned them against breaches. The director reportedly stated that the NISS has the constitutional right to reinstate censorship and that it could be brought back, partly or fully, at any time.
The NISS further requested that all journalists in Khartoum fill in forms with personal information, including their home address.
Laws such as the 2010 National Security Act and the 2009 Press and Publications Act allow for the NISS and the press council to continue to detain, interrogate and prosecute journalists and editors in chief in relation to their work.
As the January 2011 referendum draws closer, freedom of expression may be subject to further restrictions. To ensure that human rights are respected, protected and promoted during the referendum and in any future transition, the government must ensure freedom of expression and allow journalists to voice their opinions and engage in debates about the future of the country.
Sign the petition below, calling on the Sudanese authorities to:
Immediately end the harassment and intimidation of journalists in Sudan;
Reinstate Rai Al Shaab and all other suspended newspapers;
Immediately and unconditionally release Abuzar Al Amin, Ashraf Abdelaziz, and Al Tahir Abu Jawhara;
Reform the 2009 Press and Publications Act in line with Sudan’s international human rights obligations and commitments;
Repeal the 2010 National Security Act.
The chains remain: restrictions on freedom of expression in Sudan (24 September 2010)
Sudan urged to end clampdown on freedom of expression before referendum (News, 24 September 2010)
Sudanese journalist tells of harassment by 'brutal' security forces (News, 7 June 2010)