OPINIONISTA

Khalid Abdallah: Sudanese media suffer under al-Bashir’s rule

Sudan is in its third week of mass demonstrations that are demanding that President Omar al-Bashir and his regime step down. The country's media outlets and the press have been targeted by the government’s security apparatus in an attempt to quell demonstrations. Journalists face censorship, violence and arrest.

On 19 December 2018 mass demonstrations were launched from Atbara city, the biggest city in the River Nile State in North Sudan, and historically known as the city of iron and fire. During those demonstrations, the office of the ruling party was burnt down while representatives of the national army watched. The demonstrations spread to Alqadarif State in the east of the country and later into the capital of the White Nile State – Rabak. In each city, the ruling party’s offices were set on fire. Currently, sources there indicate that the demonstrations have spread across the country and several Imams at mosques have called for Bashir’s Islamic regime to step down.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, the main body that organised and called for the demonstrations; said the protests were a declaration for freedom and change and were supported by Sudan Call Forces and the National Forces Association which include all opposition parties and armed movements in Sudan.

A series of failures in policies for nearly 30 years has brought the country to the brink of collapse. The devaluation of Sudan’s currency, lack of bread, shortages of fuels and medicines are economically and politically related.

However, the National Congress Party regime, the Sudanese version of Muslim Brotherhood, is taking many security steps against the media in an attempt to control the crisis rather than dealing with the main problem. As a result, publications have faced increased censorship since 23 December and ahead of ahead of a mass demonstration on 25 December that was organised by Sudanese Professionals Association.

Security personnel moved in on newspapers and proof-read all papers before being published daily, taking out whatever items criticise the authorities. They also confiscated newspapers after being printed if they contained any critical remarks. On 1 January The Newspaper (Al-Garida) was confiscated to repress any independent coverage.

Social media platforms such as the Facebook and WhatsApp, have been shut down across the country since 20 December. Activists were able to use Virtual Private Network (VPN) settings as an alternative outlet to keep publishing the news of the mass revolt.

On 27 December, the Sudan Journalists Network announced a three-day strike in response to the heavy-handedness on the press which included the attack on al-Sudani newspaper which saw the use of live ammunition and sticks being used by security personnel. In that incident, Yasir  Abdallah, the editorial manager was injured. Many other journalists were arrested during the first week – some were taken to custody, then released the same day.

Following the same trend, many regional and international correspondents were forbidden from covering the demonstrations. Yousra Elbagir, a CNN correspondent, was beaten and arrested by security individuals in a 31 December demonstration. In another incident, Saad aldeen Ibrahim, Alrabiya TV correspondent, was investigated by authorities for covering the demonstration.

Locally, Sudanese Journalists Network indicated that three journalists have been arrested. The journalists were Kamal Karar, Faisal Mohammed Saleh (released later on) and Gorashy Awad. All were arrested in connection with the demonstrations and surrounding events. Other journalists have been prohibited from writing their daily columns, among them Shameel Alnor and Mohammed Abdulmajed.

Network member Nasraldeen Altayeb stated that the press is facing gross violations by the government, saying cameras are not allowed on the streets and government officials refuse to give any comments regarding the current situation on the ground.

But it's not just the press that's under attack. According to Amnesty International, 37 people had been killed by security personnel by the second week of demonstrations. Activists on the ground claim that this number could be even higher. Hundreds of people have been injured, while others have faced arrest by government forces, including a group of students at Sinnar and Alzaiem Alazhari University. The students are originally from Darfur war zone region, and stand accused of being behind the killing and sabotage that occurred during the protest.

Recently Abulgasim Bortom, the leader of Independence members group in the parliament, accused the militia of the ruling party of killing peaceful demonstrators. He further called for the impeachment of Ahmed Belal, the Minister for Interior Affairs in an interview with Aljazeera TV. The minister confessed in the parliament that 381 demonstrations took place across the country and 816 people have been arrested since 19 December 2018.

On the ground, the situation is escalating. Recently the Dutch government issued a security alert to its citizens in Sudan to be cautious while moving around the country; the alert categorises Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile as dangerous places. Other countries including the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States condemned the violent response of Sudanese security against protesters.

The crisis in Sudan seems to be a real dilemma for Bashir who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (the ICC) while the people of Sudan intend to overthrow him. Regional and international pressure is needed in order to force the regime to respond to peoples' demands without resorting to heavy-handed tactics. DM

Khalid Abdallah is a Sudanese journalist currently living in exile in the Netherlands

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