11 April 2012

Security services find new way of censoring critics

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The Sudanese authorities have resorted to bankrupting the media as a new way of silencing dissent, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

In the past, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) would censor publications in advance by sending agents to newsrooms, who would read the newspaper in full and order articles be taken out and replaced. Editors were then forced to sign a pledge not to publish the censored articles anywhere, including online.

Now, CPJ has found that NISS agents are also raiding printing presses and confiscating the already printed papers on grounds that the publications are covering "banned" or "red line" topics, forcing the papers to incur heavy financial losses.

For instance, CPJ points out that the newspaper "Al-Maidan" was censored this way at least four times last month alone.

"Al-Maidan" editor-in-chief Madiha Abdullah told CPJ the newspaper pays for printing in advance with the expectation it will cover the expense through sales. But copies on these five dates never made it to newsstands and were instead hoarded at security offices. The newspaper said it lost thousands in revenue each time the printed copies were confiscated.

Similar stories were heard from the staff at "Al-Ahdath", "Al-Tayar" and "Al-Jarida", says CPJ.

Part of the problem is the list of banned topics is long, and practically all-encompassing when covering news and politics: for example, the International Criminal Court, government corruption, human rights violations and Darfur are all forbidden.

And because "Al-Maidan" refuses to bow to censorship, it continues to get seized, says IPI. According to ANHRI, the paper had recently published articles related to alleged police abuses, including a girl protester who was apparently killed by security forces.

Last month, NISS raided the headquarters of "Alwan" and ordered the suspension of journalists Mujahid Abdullah and Essam Jaafar on the pretext that their writings were undesirable, and said that they will also ban them from writing in any other newspaper, reports ANHRI.

"This all comes at a time when government officials feel free to accuse journalists of treason and espionage, with pro-regime newspapers amplifying the accusations. With such attacks taking place and with security agents controlling what can be published, independent journalism in Sudan remains in great peril," said CPJ.

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