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Sudan18 December 2003

Reporters Without Borders condemns seizure of Al-Jazeera equipment

Reporters Without Borders has called on the Sudanese authorities to immediately return equipment seized by the security services from Al-Jazeera television in Khartoum.

"The seizing of equipment from Al-Jazeera is just one more indication of the security forces’ unacceptable onslaughts on freedom of information, which has been reduced to a sorry state in Sudan," said Robert Ménard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders. "Following six suspensions of newspapers in less than four months, now it is the turn of a television channel to be censored on a trumped-up administrative pretext," he added. "All the seized equipment came into Sudan quite legally, fulfilling all the rules and financial regulations of the customs service, and there are official documents to prove it," local bureau chief Islam Salih told Reporters Without Borders.

The security forces entered the offices of the television station on 17 December without any search warrant and took broadcast equipment and three cameras. The Sudanese authorities said that the Qatar-based television had not paid customs duty on the equipment. Islam Salih and cameraman Hamid Tirab, were taken to the customs offices by the security forces. The customs accepted that everything to do with the equipment was in order. The two men were released three hours later at the end of the day but the equipment was not returned to them. The security forces had warned Al-Jazeera a few days earlier in connection with the channel’s editorial line in covering national news, in particular the civil war in South Sudan. "If you don’t change your attitude, we will react," they threatened over the telephone. The security services’ raid on the television studies followed the broadcast of interviews with members of the Sudanese opposition.

Reporters Without Borders also called on the Sudanese courts to allow resumption of publication of the suspended dailies Al-Ayam (since 3 December) and of the Khartoum Monitor (since 24 November).

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