Whereas opposition leaders in exile returned to the country in 2001, the authorities attacked other opponents, including Hassan el-Tourabi, the former power behind the president, arrested after signing an "agreement" with his former enemy the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army).
Against a background of conflicting interests between political clans, the independent press was subjected to constant pressure from the authorities in the form of censorship and arrests. The country’s only English-language newspaper was censored several times during the year. The state of emergency, extended in January for one year by President Omar al-Bechir, grants the security police the power to arrest people. Over 30 journalists were arrested in 2001 for addressing sensitive subjects such as corruption or the Khartoum regime’s policy in the South, a region with a Christian and animist majority against which it has been at war since 1983.
President Omar al-Bechir nevertheless decided on 8 December to lift the advance censorship imposed on the country’s independent dailies for the past year. Managing editors who no longer have to submit the content of their editions to the authorities for approval before publication, nevertheless still have to practice self-censorship.
Sudan has been opening more and more to the Internet and satellite dishes are popping up everywhere on the rooftops of the country’s major towns.
Four journalists jailed
A Khartoum court ordered the incarceration of Amal Abbas, editor-in-chief of Al Raï Al Akhar, on 3 February 2001. The daily had published an article in August 2000, accusing the authorities of misappropriating public money. The journalist was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment or payment of 1.5 million Sudanese dinars (about 6,400 euros) in bail. Unable to pay that amount, she was jailed in the Oum Dourman prison in Khartoum. The author of the article in question, Hassan Ibrahim, who received the same sentence, was jailed in Kober. Charges against Al Raï Al Akhar were initiated by the governor of Khartoum state, directly implicated in the article. Since its creation in 1995 this newspaper has been suspended about ten times. The two journalists were released on 19 February. On 1 January 2002 they were waiting for the result of their appeal. Amal Abbas had already been incarcerated for 36 hours on 19 January for refusing to publish an apology for an article presenting Sudan’s judiciary as a veritable "public service mafia".
Alfred Taban, managing editor of Khartoum Monitor and correspondent for the BBC and Reuters, was arrested by security forces on 12 April, by virtue of the emergency law which empowers the security forces to detain a person for 90 days without trial. The journalist was arrested while attending a press conference given by religious leaders in the centre of Khartoum. The religious leaders were expressing their opinions on the police’s cancellation of a ceremony on 11 April, for Easter. Alfred Taban was released on 17 April. Khartoum Monitor, the only English-language daily in the country, is known for its criticism of the government’s policies, especially in the South. Alfred Taban had already been arrested on 12 February before being released five days later without any explanation.
A journalist working for several Sudanese publications, Fayçal al-Baqer, was arrested on 13 June at his Khartoum home. The security police, who searched his home and seized his computer, fax machine and books, did not have a search warrant and did not state the charges against him. He was released on 26 June without any charges being laid. His confiscated possessions were not restored to him.
Twenty-two journalists arrested
On 24 October 2001 Alfred Taban was arrested at his home by plainclothes security policemen. On the same evening Niel Bol, editor of Khartoum Monitor, was also arrested. The authorities gave no reasons for these arrests. On 24 February already Alfred Taban and Albino Okeny, respectively managing editor and editor-in-chief of Khartoum Monitor, had been detained for a few hours by the police.
On 20 November, Sudanese security authorities arrested about 20 journalists from Al-Watan as they were protesting against a ban on issuing an article in their daily. The journalists, including chief editor Sid’Ahmed Khalifa, were rounded up after they had marched through the streets of Khartoum to hand a letter of protest over to the Ministry of Information.
Security officials had come to their headquarters the night before, to prevent them from publishing an article about the seizure of more than 2 billion Sudanese pound (over 800 000 euros) worth of expired medicines and the arrest of a number of merchants that day. In protest, Al-Watan journalists marched peacefully through Khartoum’s streets with their mouths wrapped with pieces of cloth to show they had been censored. Then the police stopped them and charged them with " inciting hatred against the state " and " disturbing public order ". The journalists were released a few hours later.
Pressure and obstruction
The daily Rai al-Shaab, on news stands since 6 February, was closed down on 22 February 2001 by court order. The newspaper was published by the Popular National Congress party (PNC), an opposition party led by Hassan el-Tourabi, the regime’s former ideologist, excluded from the government in December 1999 by President Omar al-Bechir. The newspaper was closed the day after Hassan el-Tourabi’s arrest.
On 8 May an As Sahafa journalist, Abdel Hamid Awad, was refused access to cover parliamentary debates. He had just written an article on complaints by members of parliament about their low salaries.
In June, Alfred Taban, BBC and Reuters correspondent and managing editor of Khartoum Monitor, was unable to leave the country to attend an international meeting in Tanzania between journalists and groups from civil society. No reason was given for this refusal.
The daily Khartoum Monitor was suspended on 11 September for three days by the National Press Council, a body reporting directly to the president and which has the power to suspend or ban publications and to fine their publishers. This decision was taken following the publication in August and September of articles judged "harmful" to relations between the North and the South, engaged in a civil war since 1983. In particular, Khartoum Monitor had published statements by a personality in the South, accusing the "Northerners of plundering the riches of the South".
On 2 October the National Press Council suspended the dailies Alwan and Al Ousboue for 24 hours. The reason given was the publication of articles judged "libellous". The decision was applied on 3 October.