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Mass censorship of Khartoum newspapers during official visit of human rights experts

(26 May 2015) On the morning of 25 May, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) visited Khartoum’s printing houses and confiscated the entire print runs of ten newspapers without giving reasons. The security agency also gave verbal orders for the indefinite suspension of four of the papers. Although no formal reasons were given, at least one paper had featured, on its front page, details of a press conference held the previous day by the United Nations expert on violence against women who was concluding a visit to the country. Sudan is also currently receiving a visit from Commissioner Lawrence Mute, of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Africa’s main regional human rights body.

Cover of Al Gareeda, 25 May 2015
Cover of Al Gareeda, 25 May 2015

Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, issued a press statement on 24 May to mark the end of her twelve-day visit to Sudan.  In the statement, she raised serious concern about the “silence and the denial” of the existence of violence against women in Sudan by state officials and some members of civil society.  Pointing to what she referred to as an “accountability deficit that seems to be the norm in Sudan for gendered crimes”, the UN expert made a specific call for the government of Sudan to set up a Commission of Inquiry, consisting of both national and international persons, to look into the reports of allegations of mass rapes, including allegations regarding the North Darfur village of Tabit, where human rights groups estimate more than 200 women and girls were raped by the Sudanese Armed Forces in October 2014.

The lead story for the independent Al Gareeda newspaper, which was confiscated together with nine others on 25 May, was to run with the headline: Independent Expert calls for Investigation Committee in Mass Rape Allegations.

The nine other papers censored on 25 May are traditionally aligned to the policies of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), highlighting the increasingly restrictive space for newspaper editors in the country regardless of party affiliation.  The Chief Editor of Al Intibaha newspaper, Mr. Al-Sadig Alrezigi, is also the Chairperson of Sudanese Journalists Union. His newspaper was prevented from distribution and also ordered to cease publication indefinitely.

The entire print runs of the following ten newspapers were confiscated:

  • Al Intibaha
  • Akhir Lahza
  • Al Gareeda
  • Al Khartoum
  • Alyoum Altali
  • Al Tayar
  • Al Sudani
  • Al Rai Alaam
  • Al Akhbar
  • Alwan

The Chief Editors of four of the papers – Al Intibaha, Akhir Lahza, Al Gareeda, and Al Khartoum –received verbal orders via telephone from the NISS that they should suspend publishing, without any reasons or timeline for the suspension being given. They did not publish the following day, 26 May.

Also on 26 May, the day after the mass confiscation, the entire print runs of two other traditionally pro-government newspapers, Awal Alnahar and Al Tagheer, were confiscated. Al Tagheer is owned by Dr. Mamoun Humida, the Khartoum state Minister for Health.

Whilst media censorship by the NISS in Sudan is a daily occurrence, this incident is the second mass censorship of Sudan’s printed media in 2015. The NISS confiscated the print runs of 14 newspapers on 16 February without giving any formal reasons.

Background

In recent years, it has become a daily ritual for NISS officers to visit Khartoum’s printing houses in the early morning hours to seize print runs or prevent the distribution of morning papers without giving any reasons. The NISS has increasingly sought to censor not only independent newspapers or those affiliated to opposition political parties – but also those that are traditionally supportive of or affiliated to the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

This is the second mass censorship of Khartoum’s print media this year. On 16 February 2015 the entire print runs of 14 newspapers were confiscated by the NISS without any formal reasons being given. Media sources speculated that the mass confiscation could have been linked to the publication of articles on 15 February that reported military gains made by the rebel Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N) in battle with the Sudanese Armed Forces, and news of scores of containers with radioactive materials reportedly found at Port Sudan. Press censorship and other human rights violations also sharply rose in the context of preparations for the General Elections which took place on 13-16 April.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo, an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, visited Sudan from 13 to 24 May 2015 to examine the overall situation of violence against women and girls in the country, and to gather first-hand information from victims of violence.  On conclusion of her visit to Sudan, which was the first trip for her mandate in a decade, the UN expert raised concern about a range of violence against women issues in the family and the community, as well as in conflict-affected areas. In her press statement, the expert raised specific concern about the discriminatory interpretation and impact of some laws on women and girls, including criminal law, public order law and personal status law provisions, as well as the targeting of Darfuri female students on the grounds of their ethnicity. Interlocutors she spoke to consistently raised concern about female genital mutilation and early marriage.  She also drew attention to the challenges faced by UN agencies in Sudan, and in particular the African Union – United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), in carrying out their mandates to promote human rights. According to the expert, these include security concerns, access restrictions, political and administrative actions, as well as tension, lack of trust and the conflation of issues which negatively impact partnerships and activities with the Sudanese government. Her full report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015.

Sudan has received visits from three international human rights experts this month. In addition to the visit from Rashida Manjoo, the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Mr. Aristide Nononsi, made an official visit to Sudan on 13-21 May and Commissioner Lawrence Mute of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights conducted a visit on 22-28 May.

Contact: 

Katherine Perks, (English), +256 775072136 / info@acjps.org.

Mohamed Badawi, (Arabic), +256 783 693 689 / info@acjps.org.

This post is also available in: Arabic