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Sudan6 September 2002

Press attacked for criticising government’s pull-out from peace talks

The issues of three Sudanese newspapers were seized and a journalist arrested this week after they criticised the government’s recent withdrawal from peace talks in Nairobi with the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

"We protest against these decisions and we are concerned about the repeated attacks on the press in recent months," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "Negotiations between the government and the SPLA are a crucial part of Sudanese political life and the press should be able to cover them without pressure." He noted that security police had closed down or seized issues of about 10 newspapers over the past year.

Osman Mergani, a journalist with the daily Al Rai Al Aam, was arrested on 3 September by security officials and taken to security headquarters, where he was briefly questioned and then taken to Dabak prison, north of Khartoum. He was released on 5 September. He had criticised the government’s withdrawal from the peace talks in a broadcast on the Arab TV station Al-Jazeera on 1 September. The paper published an article criticising Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha on 3 September.

The 4 September issues of two privately-owned newspapers, the Khartoum Monitor and Al-Horriya were seized the evening before by security officials who went to the printing works.

Alfred Taban, managing editor of the Khartoum Monitor, and Albino Okeny, his editor-in-chief, were summoned on 4 September before security officials, who reproached them for criticising the government. That day’s issue of the paper carried the text of a speech by opposition leader Sadek El-Mahdi criticising the pull-out from the talks. Another article reported the demands of Abyei, a town on the border with southern Sudan, whose inhabitants wanted to be part of the south, not the north.

Al-Horriya’s 4 September edition contained an editorial saying the decision to suspend the talks was wrong. The paper’s managing editor, Haj Warrag, and journalist Lubna Ahmed Husein were summoned the next day before security officials, who interrogated them about it.

The 5 September issue of the daily As Sahafa was also seized at the printing works at dawn the same day. The previous day’s issue had criticised the peace talks pull-out.

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