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Sudan 9 August 2005

Police raid two newspapers despite announced end to censorship

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the "outrageous return of police raids on newspaper printing presses" in Sudan after the security forces prevented two Arabic-language daily newspapers from being published on 6 August despite the previously-announced lifting of censorship.

"So it has taken a month for President Omar Hassan Al Bashir to break the promises he made with his hand over his heart on 11 July," the press freedom organisation said. "The UN secretary-general and the heads of state present should call on the president to keep his word. We do not want to think the announcement was just for show."

In the presence of several African presidents, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and many senior European and US officials, President Al Bashir undertook on 11 July to support the construction of democracy and the rule of law and freedoms, and announced the repeal of the emergency laws.

The printing press that produces the Al Watan and Al Wan newspapers was raided at around 4 a.m. on 6 August by members of the security forces, who ordered the presses to stop and confiscated all available copies. No official explanation was given by the Sudanese intelligence services.

The Associated Press news agency quoted Al Watan editor Tahir Sati as saying the police had come the previous evening to inspect the content of the next day’s edition. He said they left at the end of the evening, but returned in the early hours and seized the 25,000 copies that had already been printed.

"No reason was given," he said. "But we think it is was related to our criticism of the government, especially of its handling of the riots and demonstrations."

Serious rioting broke out in Khartoum and its suburbs after Vice-President John Garang, the leader of the former rebels of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, was killed in a helicopter crash on 31 July. The Sudanese Red Crescent estimated that a total of 130 people were killed in rioting in three localities.

Al Wan editor Hussein Khogali said 40,000 copies of his newspaper were seized. He told Reporters Without Borders the confiscation was "illegal" as the official lifting of censorship was announced on 9 July, and he described the police raid as a "clear violation" of free expression.

"The aim is to put us in financial difficulty. This sends a message to our advertisers that they should stop buying space in our newspaper," he said. Viewed as a supporter of the Islamist opposition, Khogali was often harassed by the police last year and spent more than a month being detained in deplorable conditions.

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