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Sudan20 October 2006

Sudanese president urged to keep promises as tally of journalists arrested this year reaches 15

Reporters Without Borders has condemned the Sudanese authorities’ harassment of local and foreign journalists which has been stepped up since the summer of 2006, barely one year after President Omar al-Bashir announced he was lifting the state of emergency.

“At least 15 journalists have been arrested since the start of the year, as the government responded in an authoritarian and arbitrary way to violent rebellion in Darfur and the holding of popular demonstrations against it,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“It has to be pointed out that one year after the announcement of lifting of the state of emergency, the Sudanese authorities are breaking promises they made before the international community”.

“We are all the more anxious because this resumption of arrests went hand in hand with a wave of censorship throughout September. The authorities recently justified the violations by the investigation into the murder of journalist Mohamed Taha, on 6 September", the organisation added.

Security forces on 15 October arrested Saad al-Din Hassan Abdallah, a correspondent for al-Arabiya television in Khartoum, after the channel broadcast a report on the expulsion and denial of the right of association of residents in the Amri region in the north of the country, where the government is building a dam. He was held for several hours and his laptop was confiscated. He was summoned to appear for further questioning on 19 October and was kept again for hours, while his laptop remains with the security forces.

Abu Obeida Abdallah, a journalist on the privately-owned daily al-Rai al-Aam, was held in custody by security forces in Kober jail in Khartoum from 29 September to 15 October, officially in connection with the investigation into the murder of Mohamed Taha. He had covered the Abuja summit in May between the government and rebeI groups from Darfur.

Four foreign journalists were detained, for trying to cover events in this western province which is ravaged by civil war, two of them and their fixers spending lengthy periods of time in prisons in Darfur. Paul Salopek, of the daily Chicago Tribune, with his interpreter and driver, spent the month of August in prison for “spying” and “spreading false news”. Slovenian photographer and humanitarian activist Tomo Kriznar was imprisoned for the same reason in the Darfur capital, El-Fasher, from 20 July to 2 September, before being pardoned by President al-Bashir. On 10 February, Lydia Polgreen, journalist on the daily New York Times and photographer Michael Kamber, as well as their guide, were held for several hours on the border with Chad.

On 30 August, Imam Abdelbagi Al-Khidir, a journalist on the privately-owned Akhir Lahrza, Maha Gabir Mabruk, an intern on the same paper, and Safa al-Salih, correspondent for the Arabic service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), were beaten up and held for two hours at the central police station in Khartoum while covering a demonstration against economic hardship, which was brutally put down by the security forces.

Police beat and held overnight Naser Eldien Ahmed Altayeb, a journalist on al-Ayam, while he was reporting on the expulsion of internally displaced people from a piece of land taken over by a businessman in Algazera province, south of Khartoum.

The previous night, four journalists were also held for several hours in Marawi, northern Sudan after they tried to investigate the plight of residents of the Amri region, displaced in connection with the construction of a dam. They were Mugahed Abdalla, of the privately-owned daily al-Rai al-Shab, Abulgasiem Farahna of the daily Alowan, Mutaz Mahjoob, of the daily al-Adwaa and Muheb Maher, of the daily al-Sudani.

On 3 January, Zuhair al-Sarraj of the privately-owned daily al-Sahafa, spent 60 hours in Kober jail in Khartoum before being charged with “insulting the President”.

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