Members of an association of independent journalists in Sudan have called for a strike over a new government crackdown on newspapers and urged media workers nationwide to follow suit.
The Sudanese Journalists Network (SJN), which organises about 400 of the country’s 1,200 registered journalists, staged a protest on Tuesday in front of the National Council for Press and Publication (NCPP) premises in Khartoum.
The rally came a day after Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) seized copies of 10 newspapers and suspended four of them indefinitely without giving reasons.
The four publications shut down until further notice include Akhir Lahza and Al Intibaha, two of the country’s main papers,
In recent months, security services have stepped up arrests of journalists and politicians, and in January Sudan’s parliament passed amendments to the constitution that expanded the powers of the state’s security apparatus.
On February 16, the entire print runs of 14 newspapers were confiscated by security forces without any reasons given.
Journalists say that the NISS uses seizures of print copies of newspapers not only to censor the media but also to weaken them economically.
“Several times they seize the papers after copies are already printed and ready to be distributed,” Durra Gambo, a freelance journalist and SJN member, told Al Jazeera.
“The violation against journalists has soared in recent months. The censorship and government interference in what journalists can say is limiting our constitutional right to free media.”
Madiha Abdalla, editor-in-chief of the Communist party’s Al Midan newspaper, told Al Jazeera last month that not knowing if reports would eventually reach the newspaper stands is a reality editors in Sudan have to deal with every day.
Topics that are off-limits include coverage of the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir over alleged war crimes, rights violations in the Darfur region and any criticism of Bashir.
Sudan journalists rally against restrictions
“Our policy is not to comply with these regulations and as a result we faced closure and confiscation several times,” Abdalla said.
She has been charged with publishing false information and instigating violence against the government several times, but continues to publish what she believes needs to be reported.
“When we couldn’t print our issues we continued with publishing our content online,” Abdalla said.
“You cannot put limits and conditions on freedom of expression.”
Sudan’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression but laws subordinate to the constitution such as the National Security Forces Act of 2010 contains articles that can be potentially used to curtail press freedom and instigate legal proceedings against newspapers and individual journalists.
“I feel that the crackdown is getting worse,” Gambo says.
“The freedom limitations reflect what the situation is like in the country. The targeting of journalist needs to stop. NISS orders comes from the government.
“The government is trying to stop us from unveiling the corruption that is happening in the country, and [they] don’t want us to write about the ongoing wars in the country. This is an attempt to sidetrack the Sudanese people from knowing what is happening in their country.”
Gambo anticipates that the worst is yet to come but she is determined not to back down.
“We will carry on as professional journalists. The crackdown will not stop us from fulfilling our duties, the Sudanese people deserve to know the truth.”