KHARTOUM — More than 100 Sudanese journalists took to the streets Wednesday to protest the deteriorating press freedom in the country. The demonstration follows last week’s closure of the Alahadath newspaper by authorities in Khartoum for publishing several reports about government policies which affect the newspaper industry.
The secretary-general of the Sudanese journalist’s network, Khalid Saad, called on government officials to stop arresting journalists for doing their job.
"The main reason of our strike is the detention of our colleagues," he said. "We want them to be released; they were detained for unknown reasons. A number of our colleagues have [also] been attacked while covering some events."
The protesting journalists were quickly surrounded by police officers in pickup trucks but the demonstration was allowed to continue and no arrests were made. In recent months, Sudan has increased taxes on paper and ink, forcing newspapers to raise prices. In the last six months, prices of newspapers have doubled, and sales have dropped, forcing many newspapers to lay off reporters.
Mahjub Mohamed Salih is a veteran Sudanese journalist who has been in the media industry for the past 60 years, said this is the worst environment he has ever witnessed in Sudan.
“[The media] is under contentious harassment from the government," he said. "The newspapers are at the moment working under direct pre-publication censorship where news items, analysis, comments are withdrawn from newspapers at the last hour. Some papers have closed down by a government order, [while some ] newspapers closed down or [were] confiscated after publication’’.
Mahjub says the number of detained journalists by Sudanese security has doubled since last month. Since the student-led protests began over a month ago, more than 20 local journalists have been detained. Three foreign journalists were also detained. Some of them were released after thorough investigations by security officials.
The press office at the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service has urged journalists not to report on any protests. But Salih said the old method of censorship has no place in the modern world of the Internet.
“It is only natural, because the government thinks that these are very limited protests and should not be blown out of context," he said. "This policy doesn’t take into consideration that the world is one village, so any attempt to stifle news or make a news blackout will not succeed.”
Khartoum says the press in Sudan is relatively free, pointing to the number of newspapers currently in print as evidence. But Sudan routinely falls near the bottom of press freedom rankings in data compiled by organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.