Sudan: Media coverage of protests stifled by arrests and targeting of newspapers

Press conference in Paris discussed ongoing Sudanese protests against President Omar al-Bashir, 13 February 2019.
Press conference in Paris discussed ongoing Sudanese protests against President Omar al-Bashir, 13 February 2019. Photo: Daniel Finnan/RFI

A crackdown on the media in Sudan is hitting press coverage of the continuing protests against President Omar al-Bashir and his government, according to Reporters Without Borders. The press freedom watchdog said on Wednesday that almost 80 journalists have been arrested since the start of protests in December and the authorities are increasingly confiscating newspapers in order to financially cripple publishers.


"The ultimate objective is evidently to economically stifle the press,” said Arnaud Froger, head of the Africa programme at Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Confiscating newspapers is not only part of a strategy to limit coverage of the demonstrations against Bashir, but is intended to further suffocate the media financially, according to Froger.

Some 63 newspapers have been confiscated by the Sudanese security forces since the start of the protests in December, he said, referring to both copies of newspapers being confiscated and action to stop newspapers going to the printing presses in the first place.

The crackdown on the Sudanese written press has led to significant additional costs for many publications who not only lose the money spent on printing, but also the associated advertising that they have been unable to carry, according to RSF.

Froger estimated potential losses to Sudanese publications of between 500 US dollars to several thousand US dollars for each instance of newspapers being confiscated. Since the start of the demonstrations and targeting of newspapers the cost has run into tens of thousands of US dollars.

RSF also said that the number of journalists arrested during coverage of the Sudanese uprising has reached 79 people. Journalists in Sudan are the “first victims of repression”, according to Froger, and some 16 reporters still remain in detention.

Protests in Sudan against the government were born out of demonstrations over the increasing price of basic goods. Protests have morphed from an anger over the price of bread and fuel into a more general movement against Bashir’s government.

“For the security people, journalists who are covering news or protests are also dangerous like the protesters,” Mohamed Nagi, editor-in-chief of the Sudan Tribune, told RFI. “When you cover protests, you reflect something that they don’t want the international community to see.”

Q&A: Mohamed Nagi

The protests have brought together a broad collection of political parties, civil society groups and armed Sudanese rebel groups. The demonstrations have been coordinated by the Sudanese Professionals Association.

“You can’t cover the revolution in Sudan, you can’t write news stories about what happened, you can’t publish pictures because the government takes your newspaper,” Mohamed Al-Asbat, a spokesperson for the Sudanese Professionals Association, told RFI.

Asbat, a former journalist who has previously spent time behind bars for his work, said officers from the intelligence agency frequently infiltrate newsrooms to try and monitor how events in the country are being covered.

Journalists who are arrested by the authorities are subject to harassment, beatings and intimidation, according to Asbat. “They’ll do every bad thing [to you] that you can imagine,” he said.

Q&A: Mohamed Al-Asbat

The latest statistics on the media crackdown in Sudan were announced during a press conference in Paris on Wednesday. The event brought together members of the French branch for the Coordination for the Support of the Sudanese Revolution group. The group hopes to rally support for the uprising in a “revolution” that it described as based on “liberty, peace and justice”, according to a press release.

Bashir recently released a number of journalists in detention following a meeting with a number of editors.

“People are very interested and want to know more about the protests. The news about what’s going on and the political situation in Sudan is terrible,” said Sudan Tribune’s Nagi.

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