Africa, Media

Journalists to be released in Sudan, but still not free to write what they like

By Theresa Mallinson 29 August 2011

If you're a journalist imprisoned in Sudan, President Omar Hassan Al Bashir's pardon will be most welcome news. Sadly though, this doesn't mean it's going to be easy to practice your profession once you're back on your beat. By THERESA MALLINSON.

On Saturday, Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir declared that all the country’s incarcerated journalists be released. According to a Reuters report, there are currently “about six” journalists in detention.

Al Bashir made his announcement at a function for journalists that is traditionally held during the month of Ramadan. “In honour of this occasion and to journalists, I order the release of all detained journalists,” Bashir said. “We call for freedom and responsibility.”

However, other actions that the Sudanese government has taken against journalists and the media in recent months, give his call for “freedom and responsibility” a hollow ring. These include:

  • The withdrawal of licences of six newspapers (Khartoum Monitor, the Juba Post, the Democrat, the Sudan Tribune, the Advocate, and Ajras al-Hurriya) shortly after South Sudan’s independence, ostensibly because they were partly owned by South Sudanese citizens;
  • The jailing of two journalists after they reported on a rape allegedly perpetrated by security forces;
  • The temporary suspension of newspapers Al-Jarida and Al-Ahdath from printing, without explanation; and
  • A move to bring back pre-publication censorship.

The Committee to Protect Journalists deputy director Robert Mahoney said: “The government in Khartoum should scrap plans to tighten already restrictive press freedom laws. It should also stop its systematic confiscation of newspaper print runs”.

That Al Bashir has ordered the release of the currently imprisoned journalists is, of course, a welcome move. But the regime’s stance towards the media offers no guarantees that they – and others – won’t be thrown back in jail for future “offences”. DM


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