In August 2002, President Omar al-Beshir authorised opposition political parties to operate, such as the Umma Party of former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi who had lived many years in exile. The rebels of the southern-based Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) were not included in the measure but the 20 July signature in Machakos (Kenya) of an agreement between government and rebels was a major step towards peace, offering the south six years of autonomy to be followed by a referendum on self-determination.
Progress on this score, which was praised abroad, was marred by determined government efforts throughout the year to reduce press freedom. Three journalists were arrested and a dozen more interrogated by state security police. Others were fined, some of them several times, throwing some papers in financial crisis.
Independent newspapers were censored more than a dozen times for writing about topics such as circumcision, AIDS, the rebel peace talks and the former power behind the regime, Hassan el-Turabi.
At the end of 2001, the government had abolished prior censorship for all newspapers except four independent daily titles, Khartoum Monitor, Al Horriya, Al Watan and As Sahafa, which continued to be the regime’s main targets.
Three journalists arrested
Nhial Bol, publisher of Khartoum Monitor, was arrested on 15 January 2002 and jailed in Omdurman Prison. The next day he was fined five million Sudanese pounds (20,000 euros) for writing that the state railway company was shutting its eyes to the transport of people kidnapped by Arab slave traders in the southeastern region of Bahr al-Ghazal. The paper itself was fined S£15 million (60,000 euros). The prosecution was initiated by the president’s office, which also complained that Bol had told a visiting US human rights delegation about the slave kidnappings. Bol was freed on 17 January after paying the fine.
Osman Mergani, a journalist with the daily Al Rai Al Aam, was arrested on 3 September and interrogated at state security police headquarters before being sent to Dabak prison, north of Khartoum. He was freed two days later. He had criticised the government’s decision to pull out of talks with the SPLA in a broadcast on the Qatari TV station Al-Jazeera on 1 September. The paper’s 3 September issue also contained criticism of Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha.
State security police arrested the editor of Al Watan, Sid’Ahmed Khalifa, on 9 November after the paper reported on clashes at Khartoum University between students and police. His son Adil, the paper’s deputy editor, was summoned the same day and threatened with reprisals if other reports were published about the clashes. He was arrested the next day. Both men were freed on 12 November.
Pressure and obstruction
Hussein Khojali, editor of the daily Alwan, was fined S£5 million (20,000 euros) and the paper itself S£7 million (28,000 euros) on 23 January for publishing the "false news" that transport minister Lam Akol had left Khartoum to join the SPLA rebels. A reporter on the paper, Hadiya Ali, was fined S£2 million (8,000 euros) in the case. Both journalists appealed against the sentences.
Security forces raided Alwan’s offices on 2 February, seizing four pages of the next day’s issue because they contained allegedly libellous articles.
Al Watan editor Sid’Ahmed Khalifa was fined S£3 million (12,000 euros) on 16 March for putting out "false news" by reporting that a large number of government officials had made the pilgrimage to Mecca at public expense. Khalifa filed an appeal.
Saad al Din Ibrahim, editor of Al Horriya, and Salah Salim, the paper’s cartoonist, were fined S£8 million (32,000 euros) on 27 March for publishing a cartoon criticising the tax authorities.
On the night of 12-13 July, security forces went to Al Horriya’s Khartoum printing plant and seized without explanation the front pages of the next day’s issue that were being printed, preventing the paper from appearing. The seizure was thought to be because of an article criticising splits in the main northern opposition Umma Party, of which a faction led by Mubarak al-Fadil al-Mahdi decided on 12 July to join the government.
Nureddin Madani, editor of As Sahafa, was summoned by state security police on 18 July after writing an article in which he used the phrase "Sudan People’s Liberation Army" instead of the accepted term of "rebels." He was warned he would be punished if it happened again.
A special press court fined Khartoum Monitor publisher Nhial Bol S£500,000 (2,000 euros) on 20 July for publishing an article about the town of Abyei, on the border with southern Sudan, whose inhabitants want to be part of the south, not the north. However, the article was not actually published because security officials had censored it at the printers. Albino Okeny, the editor-in-chief, was also fined S£250,000 (1,000 euros and the paper suspended for two days. The court also fined a director of the paper, Alfred Taban, S£500,000 (2,000 euros) for an article published about human rights violations in the eastern town of Kassala.
The supervisory National Press Council ordered the closure of the daily paper Al Ayyam for one day on 24 August for having "offended public decency" by printing an article about circumcision.
The 4 September issues of Khartoum Monitor and Al Horriya were seized the previous evening by security police who went to the printing plant. The Monitor’s Taban and Okeny were summoned by police and accused of criticising the government. The seized issue of the paper carried a speech by opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi attacking the government’s withdrawal from talks with the southern rebels. Another article reported on secessionism in Abyei.
Al Horriya’s 4 September editorial said it was wrong to suspend the talks. The paper’s publisher, Haj Warrag, and journalist Lubna Ahmed Husein were summoned the next day by security officials, who interrogated them about it.
The 5 September issue of the daily As Sahafa was seized at the printing works at dawn the same day. The previous day’s issue had criticised the peace talks pull-out.
Journalist Fasil el Bagir, the correspondent of Reporters Without Borders in Sudan, was arrested at his home by airport police on 7 October after returning from Cairo. They interrogated him for several hours about an international conference on freedom of expression he had attended in Dakar. He had been summoned by police several times during the year and questioned about articles he had written on human rights and about his links with human rights organisations, such as the Sudanese Organisation Against Torture (SOAT), to which he belongs.
The National Press Council closed Khartoum Monitor for two days on 5 November after it printed an editorial about AIDS on grounds that its language could encourage immorality and had referred "too directly" to sexual organs.
State security police seized copies of El Watan, Al Sahafa and Al Horriyah in raids on their printing plants during the night of 8-9 November. All carried reports about police-student clashes at Khartoum University despite a warning a few days earlier not to report on them.
On 26 November, Nureddin Madani, editor of As Sahafa, and Ahmed Yusif Eltai, business manager of the daily As Sharie Al Siassi, were interrogated at security headquarters in Khartoum for several hours. Madani was asked about his paper’s reprinting that day of an interview from the London-based daily Ash Sharq el Awsat with Ali Al Haj, deputy leader of Hassan el-Turabi’s Popular National Congress party. Eltai was asked about an article his paper had published the same day mentioning that Turabi had written six books since being put under house arrest.
The spokesman for parliament, Ahmed Ibrahim el-Tahir threatened on 13 December to restrict the entry of journalists if they criticised it too much.
State security officials went to the printing works of Al-Horriya, As-Sahafi al-Dawli and As-Sahafa on 19 December and confiscated all copies of the three papers.
Al-Horriya editor Saad Eddin Ibrahim was told they were seized because they had all published an announcement by the animal resources ministry denying rumours that a cattle illness had infected humans through meat and milk consumption. Articles about the supposed contamination had earlier been banned by the government.
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, said state security officials came to the paper’s offices and ordered staff to leave.
Two days later, the authorities said the paper had been closed because it had printed articles about corruption "without providing substantive material to support them" and with intent to "defame and tarnish the reputation" of institutions and individuals. The paper had been found guilty in 20 court cases, the statement said. Some of these cases concerned interviews with opposition leaders, including Hassan el-Turabi, and criticism of elections in Iraq.
The dailies Al-Horriya and Al Sahafa, failed to appear on 28 December after state security officials warned them the previous day not to publish and said if they did, the issues would be seized. Nureddin Madani (editor) and Rabie Hamid (publisher) of Al Sahafa had been summoned for questioning after printing a statement by Turabi’s banned Popular National Congress Party criticising the government’s one-year renewal of the state of emergency.
Al-Horriya editor Saad Eddin Ibrahim was summoned for questioning about an article that appeared the same day accusing the government of selling off the country’s assets and embezzling billions of Sudanese pounds.