Reporters Without Borders protested today against the closure of the independent daily paper Al Watan under what the authorities said were national security and state of emergency regulations and the failure of two others (Al Huria and Al Sahafa) to appear after threats from state security officials.
"This is a serious blow to press freedom," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard, who called on the government to allow Al Watan to resume publication at once. "The seizures and summoning of editors in recent weeks not only risk incurring big financial losses for the papers, but also leads to self-censorship by them."
The authorities have censored independent newspapers more than a dozen times so far this year for their handling of topics including circumcision, AIDS, peace talks with southern SPLA rebels and discussion of the former power behind the regime, Hassan el-Turabi.
The director-general of the internal security police ordered Al Watan to shut down on 28 December along with its publishing company. The paper’s deputy editor, Adil Sid’Ahmed Khalifa, told Reporters Without Borders that state security officials burst into the paper’s offices and ordered staff to leave.
The internal security office said today in a lengthy justification of the action that the paper had printed "scores of articles on alleged corruption without providing substantive material to support them." It said they were printed to "defame and tarnish the reputation" of government institutions and individuals.
The paper had been found guilty in 20 court cases, the statement said, and had either apologised or received a warning. Some of these instances concerned interviews with opposition leaders, including Turabi, and criticism of elections in Iraq.
State security police arrested the paper’s editor, Sid’Ahmed Khalifa on 9 November after publication of a report about police-student clashes at Khartoum University. His son Adil was summoned by police the same day and warned not to print any more such articles. He was arrested a day later. He and his father were released on 12 November.
Two other dailies, Al Huria and Al Sahafa, failed to appear on 28 December after state security officials warned them the previous day not to publish. Nureddin Madani (editor) and Rabie Hamid (publisher) of Al Sahafa had been summoned for questioning after printing a statement on 27 December by Turabi’s banned Popular National Congress Party criticising the government’s one-year renewal of the state of emergency.
The editor of Al Huria was summoned about an article that appeared the same day accusing the government of selling off the country’s assets and saying huge sums of money had been embezzled.