North Africa, West Asia

Sudan: journalists strike amid deadly demos

The most active journalists in Khartoum are either being summoned, arrested, told what to say or are resigning.

Salma Ismail
4 October 2013

Over 600 journalists in Sudan have decided to go on open strike from Saturday until the "crisis is resolved", as deadly protests enter their sixth day with reports suggesting that over 100 citizens have been killed. Protests erupted in many cities, but mainly in Khartoum, after the government announced the lifting of fuel subsidies in a press conference last week. Ordinary citizens were not only angry at the move but also angry that measures did not scale back on the government's budget. 

Following the protests the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) proceeded to use a wide range of intimidation methods to ensure the media's 'cooperation' with the government; including the confiscation of newspapers, summoning of journalists and verbal threats. The editor-in-chiefs of newspapers in Khartoum were told to avoid reporting about the lifting of subsidies and the demonstrations, or they could face being shut down. Authorities also 'ordered' editors of private and government newspapers to use the word 'vandals' instead of 'demonstrators'. Journalist Mahjoub Mohamed Salih, Editor-in-Chief of Al Ayam daily paper and the 2005 winner of the Golden Pen Freedom Award for press freedom immediately refused to cooperate with the NISS and announced during Wednesday's meeting that he would stop publishing. Two other newspapers, Al Jareeda and Al Gharar followed suit. While Al Mijhar, Al Watan and Al Sudani were confiscated by security, Al Sahafa witnessed mass resignations. 

The Sudanese Journalists Network (SJN) issued a statement on Friday urging all journalists to take to various social media outlets instead of print media stressing, "silence is no longer possible". Among the more internationally prominent journalists on strike is Faisal Mohammad Salih, the 2013 winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism. One journalist Eisa Gadeed wrote on his Facebook page "we will not become false witnesses", stressing they could no longer accept government restrictions over editorial content. Saadeldein Hassan of Al Arabiya, who was detained vowed on his Facebook page to never betray his profession. Another female TV presenter has refused to go on air unless she’s allowed to tell the whole truth. She also said "please don't use my real name, the NISS is after me and has summoned me a million times already". The offices of Sky News Arabia and Al Arabiya have also been raided by the NISS, while media personnel have repeatedly been summoned, with many detained for hours. Journalist Lina Yagoub said "the strike which is 'open' is going to be very challenging".

The most active journalists in Khartoum are either being summoned, arrested or are resigning. Newspaper stands were almost empty over the weekend. The unprecedented protests will be met with an 'iron fist' according to the government which says that 33 people have died and that their deaths were caused by "trained and organized factions". The opposition and rights groups on the other hand, put the death toll closer to 100. The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies and Amnesty International say at least 50 people have been killed by gunshots to the chest or head, citing witnesses, relatives, doctors and journalists. Hundreds had been detained, they added. The Head of Omdorman Hospital was reportedly summoned for speaking to international media about the number of casualties according to various sources, while the Head of Khartoum's mortuary resigned in defiance against orders to register deaths related to gunshot wounds as assigned to natural causes. Various videos surfaced on the internet showing men in uniform randomly shooting at unarmed civilians as protests gradually gain momentum and appear to become more organized. In one shaky video, a protester screams against the backdrop of the sound of bullets being shot "is this the peaceful protest you want?".

The US State Department on Friday blasted the "brutal crackdown" by the government of Sudan against protesters in Khartoum, calling it "heavy-handed" and "disproportionate". "I saw my neighbour give in to her son's pleas to be allowed to go out to watch the protests: a few minutes later he was shot dead. She ran after him, she was shot too", Awatfif from Doroshab said. Sudan is currently ranked 170th out of 179 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, because of its widespread use of intimidation and violence to censor journalists.

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