A 20-year civil war which has pitted mostly animist and Christian rebels in the south against the Arab-Muslim north, with a toll of two million dead, seemed close to an end when a peace agreement was signed by the government and the southern-based Sudanese People’s Liberation Army on 25 September 2003.
The government moved to liberalise the political scene by freeing 32 political prisoners in August and, on 13 October, Hassan el-Turabi, the former power behind the regime. The ban on Turabi’s Popular National Congress party was lifted and the party newspaper allowed to reappear.
The authorities, keen to improve their international image, also announced guarantees of press freedom, which was widely abused in 2003 with frequent summoning of journalists, seizures of newspapers, extensive harassment and the torture of one journalist.
President Beshir proclaimed the lifting of censorship, even of the state-run TV station, on 12 August and transferred monitoring of the media from the National Security Agency to the National Press Council. But the state security services refused to comply with this attempt to clip their wings and used their ally, the government prosecutor in charge of subversion crimes, Mohammed Farid Hassan, to defy decisions by the justice ministry and the National Press Council. Sudan’s permanent mission at the UN in Geneva repeated on 21 October that censorship had ended and that newspapers would no longer be banned.
Two journalists imprisoned
Edward Ladu Terso, of the English-language daily Khartoum Monitor, was arrested without explanation on 11 March 2003. Four days later, state security officials told the paper he had been sent to the prison in Kober. The next day, the prosecutor-general’s office said the political section of the state security services was holding him.
He was conditionally freed on 29 March. He said he had not been physically mistreated but had been threatened. The security police told him he was being released on condition he stopped criticising the government. He had been interrogated a few days earlier about an article he wrote on the history of Islam in Sudan.
On 3 May, security forces in Nyala (Darfur province) arrested Yussef al-Bashir Musa, local correspondent for the Khartoum-based daily As-Sahafa, who has only one leg. A doctor said three days later had been tortured.
He had been beaten, hit on the soles of his feet and on his shoulders with a stick and threatened with rape. He was interrogated about stories he had sent to the paper reporting clashes in the region in April that killed more than 50 people.
The regional governor ordered him jailed for six months under article 26 of the emergency law. He was freed on 20 May but arrested again on 28 July, the day an article by him reported that students doing military service had been killed in a bus accident between Al-Fashir and Nyala.
The authorities immediately denied the report and seized copies of the next day’s paper. He was freed on 21 August, probably after being forced not to talk about his conditions of detention, since he did not inform his lawyer or Reporters Without Borders of his release.
Four journalists arrested
Nhial Bol, managing editor of the daily Khartoum Monitor, was arrested on 6 May 2003 and questioned for several hours about three articles the paper ran in April. One was by Ambrose Sebit, of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, telling how the authorities had ordered him to demolish his own church in Haj Yusif (north of Khartoum). Another was by Luka Drane Logoya, chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, and headed "Is Islam Afraid of Christianity?" It urged Sudanese of different religions to live together peacefully. The third article, by Victor Darious, was about the Islamic attitude to beer.
Bol was convicted by a Khartoum court of inciting religious discord and hatred of the state and ordered to report to the police once a week. He was arrested again on 10 May and released the next day after paying a fine of one million Sudanese pounds (about 3,160 euros). He was ill-treated in detention. After further legal harassment, he fled to Kenya.
The paper was ordered shut down for two months on 10 May and fined 500,000 Sudanese pounds (1,580 euros) after the religious affairs ministry had complained about the three articles. Police had already closed the paper’s offices on 8 May and seized all its equipment after it failed to pay a fine of 15 million Sudanese pounds (47,400 euros) for publishing an article in 2002 about slavery.
Gasim Tah, local correspondent of the daily As-Sahafa, and Muhanad Hussain, correspondent of Akhbar Al-Yom, were arrested in Nyala on 15 November and freed a few hours later. They were working on a story about the burning down of two villages in southern Darfur province by armed Arab militias.
State security agents closed the Khartoum office of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera on 18 December, arrested bureau chief Islam Salih and detained him until 24 December. On 17 December, they had searched the office without a warrant and taken away transmission equipment and three cameras, saying customs duties on the material had not been paid. But Salih and cameraman Hamid Tirab were taken to the customs department, which said nothing was owing. The two men were freed after three hours but the equipment was not returned.
Security officials had warned Al-Jazeera a few days earlier about its reports on tuberculosis and mining industry victims in Sudan, as well as about an interview with opposition politicians and a report on the situation in Darfur province.
Harassment and obstruction
All copies of the daily Khartoum Monitor were seized by security forces on 16 January 2003 because it contained an article about the government’s absence from scheduled peace talks in Machakos (Kenya) with southern-based rebels. Managing editor Nhial Bol and a director of the paper, Alfred Taban, were summoned by security police the day before and accused of being close to the rebels.
On 8 February, the authorities seized all copies of the next day’s issue of the daily As-Sahafa without any explanation to editor Nureddin Madani. The previous day, the paper had reported criticism by Hassan el-Turabi’s banned Popular National Congress party of the renewal of the state of emergency. Later on 8 February, officials of the security forces press office warned the paper’s shareholders and managers that further action would be taken if the paper continued to take the same political line. One of the As-Sahafa’s directors said such seizures were aimed at bankrupting it.
The Monitor’s Bol and Taban were interrogated by state security police for several hours on 3 March. A week earlier, they had printed criticism about fighting in the southwestern province of Darfur. They were warned by the National Security Agency the paper might be shut down.
The authorities seized copies of the Monitor at the printers on 9 March. Later that day, Bol and reporter Edward Ladu Terso were summoned by state security police. The seizure was because of an article by Terso saying the history of Islam in Sudan had sometimes been a troubled one.
Islam Salih, of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera, and Mohammed el-Hassan, his cameraman, were hit by several policemen on 22 March while covering a student demonstration in Khartoum against the war in Iraq. Salih identified himself as a journalist but police continued hitting them on the knees with truncheons. Hassan managed to escape with his camera and his film was broadcast.
The same day, journalist Hayder al-Mukashfi, who writes a column called "Openness" in the daily Al-Ayam, was interrogated by state security police, who told him his writing "went too far" and advised him to change his tune.
In early May, the National Security Agency banned the media from reporting the fighting in the Darfur region that had killed more than 50 people the previous month. Newspapers were warned by telephone they would be seized if they mentioned the clashes. The press obeyed until the independent dailies Al-Sharie al-Syassi and As-Sahafa printed reports on 3 and 4 May. All copies of the papers were seized on 6 and 7 May.
Journalist Faisal el-Bagir, correspondent in Sudan for Reporters Without Borders, was interrogated for two hours at Khartoum airport on 8 June when he returned from an international conference in Athens on the future of the media in Iraq. His baggage was searched and his passport and several newspapers he had were seized. He was ordered to go later that day to the political affairs office of the state security police, where he was interrogated about his journalistic activities, his political views, his trip to Athens and his links with the Sudanese Organisation Against Torture (for which he works), the Khartoum Centre for Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders.
On 22 June, state security police banned without explanation the appearance of the first issue of a new daily paper, Al-Sabahia, even though it had been authorised to publish.
The authorities seized all copies of As-Sahafa on 28 June without explanation. One of the paper’s staff, Al-Haj Warrak, said they had been taken by state security police from the printers in the early hours of the morning.
State security police seized copies of two dailies, Al Rai al Aam and Alwan, on 4 July without explanation.
The Khartoum Monitor was shut down on 12 July for two months by the Khartoum criminal court, which cancelled its publishing licence for printing articles that allegedly violated the law. A day earlier, the paper had brought out its first issue after a two-month suspension after being convicted on 10 May of inciting religious discord and hatred of the state and fined 500,000 Sudanese pounds (1,580 euros), which it did not pay.
The paper was authorised to reappear on 13 September, when the appeal court struck down the 12 July ban. The National Press Council also said the paper could publish again, but the state prosecutor in charge of subversion crimes, Mohammed Farid Hassan, overruled them and said the ban would continue until legal investigations in the case were complete, citing article 130 of the code of criminal procedure (paragraphs 1 and 3). The paper was finally allowed to reappear on 19 October but was closed again indefinitely on 14 November.
Managing editor Nhial Bol said on 13 July that someone had tried to kill him when a vehicle attempted to ram his car as he was driving in eastern Khartoum. He said he had received telephoned death threats in connection with articles he had written in the paper. The car incident came the day after a Khartoum court cancelled the publishing licence of the paper, which had begun appearing again on 11 July.
The authorities seized all copies of the daily paper Al-Wifaq on 16 July, a day after it had printed a call by the head of the National Telecommunication Corporation, Al-Tayen Mustafa Abdel Rahman, for the northern part of the country to separate itself from the south. The article was also carried on 14 July by the dailies Akhbar al-Yum and Alwan, both of which were seized on 15 July.
All copies of As-Sahafa were seized on 29 July after its correspondent in Nyala, Yussef al-Bashir Musa, reported that students doing military service had been killed in a bus accident between Al-Fashir and Nyala. The confiscation was reportedly also connected with another report in the same issue about efforts to mediate between the government and rebels in western Sudan. The paper’s editor, Adil Albaz, said the government had forbidden any mention of the topic.
The independent daily Alwan was suspended indefinitely on 2 September by subversion prosecutor Mohammed Farid Hassan under articles 66 and 69 of the criminal code and article 25 of the press law, after a complaint by the National Security Agency that it had printed articles that incited people to sedition and were likely to disturb public order. The justice ministry said on 24 September it could reappear but two days later Hassan banned it again. It was eventually allowed to publish on 16 October.
The newspaper Azminah was suspended by Hassan on 30 September after the army complained it had printed an inaccurate report that pro-government militias had been disbanded after a 25 September peace agreement with southern-based rebels. The ban was lifted on 16 October.
The National Press Council suspended the daily Al-Sahafa for three days on 1 October under the press law for printing an ad by Ethiopian Airlines praising the quality of the wine on its Khartoum-Paris flights. Alcohol has been banned in Sudan since 1983. The paper reappeared on 4 October.
Journalist Faisal el-Bagir, correspondent in Sudan for Reporters Without Borders, was held for six hours on 7 October by media monitoring officials of the state security services, which had earlier called him on his mobile phone and told him to report to them at once. He was detained without explanation when he arrived. When he was released they said they would summon him again whenever they pleased. Bagir had signed a statement about state security police abuses of freedom of expression that had appeared in As-Sahafa a few days earlier.
Sudan’s permanent mission to the UN in Geneva said on 21 October that censorship had ended and that newspapers would no longer be banned.
The independent daily Al-Ayam was shut down indefinitely on 16 November, a few weeks after celebrating its 50th anniversary, by subversion prosecutor Hassan under article 130 of the code of criminal procedure (paragraphs 1 and 3) for supposedly threatening the country’s security and stability.
The paper’s editor, Mahjub Mohamed Salih, a prominent independent media figure, and journalist Murtada Al-Ghali were summoned on 18 November by the prosecutor’s office. Hassan had already called in Al-Ayam journalist Tag Alsir Mekki and a former journalist on the paper, Hayder Almukashi, on 11 November without giving any reason.
On 22 November, prosecutor-general Emad Eddin Mahjub Mohamad cancelled the paper’s suspension, saying it had been ordered by unauthorised people. But it was suspended indefinitely again on 3 December without any written notification to the editor. State security police went to the printers in the early hours or ordered printing to stop.
The ban was apparently because of articles over the previous two months about fighting in Darfur province. The 3 December seizure of copies cost the paper six million dinars (18,960 euros) and over a month 50 million Sudanese pounds (158,000 euros). The closures are a way for the authorities to force papers into bankruptcy.
The Khartoum Monitor was shut down on 24 November by subversion prosecutor Hassan under article 130 of the code of criminal procedure (paragraphs 1 and 3), apparently for printing articles about slavery, as well as questioning the independence of the country’s judiciary and the national peace accords being negotiated.