Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the action of the Sudanese state security police in banning an entire issue of the English-language Khartoum Monitor newspaper in the earlier hours of 21 May after the editor refused to withdraw a report and an editorial, and then returning the following evening to scrutinize the content of the next day’s issue.
"The signing of peace accords in Sudan must not be allowed to mask what is a very difficult situation for journalists in Khartoum, where the state security police monitor and censor the privately-owned news media, and where it is now the Khartoum Monitor’s turn to receive very special treatment" the press freedom organization said.
"If the Sudanese authorities want people to believe in their declared desire to restore peace and build a democracy, they must start by respecting their own laws and the treaties they have signed and that means they must stop sending the police to newspapers," the organization said.
Reporters Without Borders added: "If the international community, in its efforts to put an end to the massacres in Sudan, forgets about the country’s journalists, we would have a right to say that peace has not really been restored."
State security police went to the Khartoum Monitor’s printing press on the night of 20 May and ordered the withdrawal of a Reuters dispatch and an accompanying editorial that were to have appeared on the front page. They were about rioting on 18 May in a camp for displaced persons at Soba Aradi, south of the capital, in which six civilians including a baby and a teenager, and 14 policemen died.
Fighting broke out at the camp when police tried to forcibly "relocate" its inhabitants, most of whom are from Darfur or the south, in accordance with a vast government plan to reorganise reception centres for the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Khartoum state. Refugees reportedly attacked a police station after the police fired tear gas and real bullets at them.
At around 3 a.m. on 21 May, after the newspaper’s editors refused to withdraw the dispatch and editorial, the police ordered the cancellation of the entire issue. Acting editor William Ezechiel said this would result in a loss of 6 million Sudanese pounds (20,000 euros) in advertising and sales.
The state security police returned to the newspaper on the evening of 21 May to examine the content of the next day’s issue, announcing that they would henceforth come every evening to ensure that no articles "cross the red line."
Reuters quoted an unnamed state security official as saying: "We follow the newspaper but there is no censorship. We talk on the telephone with them because there are some subjects which we ask them to treat responsibly."
Sudan is still under a state of emergency, with many civil liberties suspended. The Khartoum Monitor, which has consistently defended the population of the south, has already been the target of coercive measures in the past, as have many other journalists and newspapers. The Arabic-language daily Al Adwaa, for example, had to withdraw an article criticising the continuation of the state or emergency and the behaviour of the state security police from its 12 May issue.