New York, July 20, 2012--Authorities in Sudan must stop their crackdown on press coverage of the ongoing protests in Khartoum and allow the media to report independently without fear of retaliation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. At least two journalists have been detained without charge; a third journalist's whereabouts are unknown, although local news accounts say the reporter may be in state custody. In addition, authorities have confiscated particular editions of at least three newspapers and also banned a daily from publishing, news reports said.
Protests in Khartoum that began in mid-June to demonstrate against austerity measures have spread to other parts of the country, according to news reports. Security forces have responded harshly, dispersing demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets and attacking journalists, news reports said. On June 17, the press office of the National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS) circulated a statement to the media, instructing journalists and newspapers to avoid reporting on the protests, the reports said. Faisal Elbagir, general coordinator of the local group Journalists for Human Rights in Sudan, told CPJ that the recent arrests of journalists are attempts by authorities to silence news coverage of the protests.
"It is the job of reporters to cover mass political protests," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "Instead of arresting and threatening journalists, the Sudanese government should allow journalists to work unhindered."
A freelance journalist who was detained by the NISS has been held without charge for 17 days, according to news reports. Authorities have not disclosed the charges against Marwa al-Tigany, a contributor to the daily Al-Mehgar al-Syasy, and her family has not been told of her condition, news reports said. On July 9, security forces raided her home and confiscated her laptop and other personal belongings, Reem Abbas, a Sudanese freelance journalist and a friend of al-Tigany, told CPJ.
Al-Tigany was detained on July 3 with Egyptian journalist Shaimaa Adel of the Egyptian daily El-Watan, according to news reports. Adel was released on Monday after almost two weeks of detention and flown back to Egypt, news reports said. Both journalists had been covering anti-government protests in Khartoum, news reports said. In an interview with the private satellite broadcaster ONTV, Adel said that plainclothes intelligence agents had arrested them at an Internet café and that she herself was accused of spying and attempting to overthrow the regime.
On July 12, security agents in Khartoum detained Mohamed al-Asbat, a freelance journalist who contributed to local newspapers such as Al-Ahram al-Youm, Alwan, and Al-Akhbar, according to news reports. Al-Asbat was covering the anti-government protests in Khartoum, Elbagir told CPJ. Authorities have not disclosed al-Asbat's whereabouts or condition, or any charges against him, news reports said.
One journalist is believed to have been held by authorities for the past two weeks, according to news reports. Salwa al-Bishary, a translator for France24 and a journalist who worked for the dailies Al-Sahafa and Ajras al-Hurriya, which authorities banned from publication in July 2011, was last heard from on July 7, according to Caroline Dumay, a France24 correspondent. Al-Bishary's whereabouts or condition have not been disclosed.
"The authorities must immediately disclose any information they have on Marwa al-Tigany, Mohamed al-Asbat, and Salwa al-Bishary, including their condition and any charges against them," Mahoney said.
In the past two weeks, authorities have also confiscated the issues of at least three daily newspapers, according to news reports. In each case, security agents waited until the edition had been printed and then confiscated the entire print-run to ensure maximum financial losses, news reports said. On July 8, NISS agents confiscated the independent daily Al-Watan, news reports said. On July 10, NISS agents confiscated the pro-government Al-Rai al-Aam for writing about rising bread costs, news reports said. On July 11, NISS agents confiscated the pro-government daily Al-Hurra, news reports said. Authorities have not given reasons for confiscating editions from Al-Watan and Al-Hurra, according to local journalists and news reports.
Authorities also halted the publication of the independent daily Al-Tayar on June 12 without cause, the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Osman Mirghani, told Agence France-Presse. The government did not provide a reason for the newspaper's suspension. Earlier this year, CPJ documented the recurring confiscation of the newspaper and its suspension for three weeks on charges of "jeopardizing national security." Al-Tayar has incurred heavy financial losses as a result of its closure, Mirghani said. On Tuesday, a large group of journalists protested the paper's closure, according to news reports.
Over the past month, CPJ documented the arrest of four other journalists; a raid by security forces on the AFP bureau in Khartoum; and the blocking of at least three critical websites since the protests began.