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Sudanese Government Blocks Independent Elections Monitoring Web Site

An online platform designed to facilitate independent monitoring of the Sudanese elections is being blocked, preventing citizens from reporting irregularities in the recent polls.

A statement released by the Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders, says access to the independent election-monitoring website, Sudan Vote Monitor, has been blocked within Sudan for the past six days.

Sudan Vote Monitor has been independently monitoring the recent election and its results by allowing journalists, NGOs and citizens in Sudan to report on the voting process. Users can send text messages, upload video and post comments to highlight both positive and negative aspects of the poll to the website.

The data is then compiled by Sudan Vote Monitor and displayed both as a timeline and a map for independent assessment.

The website is operated by the U.S.-based Sudan Institute for Research and Policy and the Khartoum-based Asmaa Society for Development. The project was developed using the Ushahidi platform, which was created in 2008 to monitor and record incidents of violence after the disputed 2007 presidential election in Kenya.

But during the past week, users in Sudan have only been able to access the website intermittently, while others have had no access at all.

Reporters Without Borders urged Sudanese authorities to ensure open access to the website, and while it is unclear who is responsible, the head of New Media for the organization, Lucie Morillon, says the restriction does not help anyone.

"Especially in these times of electoral tension in the country, this act of censorship is completely counterproductive because it does reinforce doubts about the transparency of these elections," Morillon said. "One condition for holding free and fair elections is the respect for freedom of expression and the respect of freedom of the press, and blocking a website that is supposed to help monitor elections is just being seen as a way to try to hide some information that could be embarrassing for the government."

National elections took place across Sudan from April 11-15. The initial voting period of three days was extended to five due, among other issues, to delays caused by the late arrival of ballot papers and incomplete voter registration lists.

Many voters faced long lines at the voting booths, with many being forced to search for their names on the registration lists at multiple polling stations. Some voters were unable to vote at all due to errors in the registration process.

Opposition groups and election monitors have accused the government as well as the ruling National Congress Party of rigging the election.

The issues included limited media access for opposition parties and lack of voter registration in Darfur – where rebels have been battling the government since 2003. According to a report released by the International Crisis Group last month, the government made little effort to register those displaced by the conflict for the current elections.

The two main opposition groups withdrew their presidential candidates in protest of the irregularities, and many expect incumbent president Umar al-Bashir to cruise to victory.

Mr. Bashir, who seized power through a 1989 military coup, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The elections are part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended more than 20 years of war between the government of Sudan and the Southern People's Liberation Movement, now one of the main opposition parties. The agreement calls for a referendum in January to determine if the oil-rich south becomes an independent nation.