Sudanese journalists protest against censorship

A Sudanese man reads a newspaper as he waits to pay at a kiosk in the capital Khartoum, on July 31, 2011.  By Ashraf Shazly (AFP/File)

A Sudanese man reads a newspaper as he waits to pay at a kiosk in the capital Khartoum, on July 31, 2011. By Ashraf Shazly (AFP/File)

KHARTOUM (AFP) – Dozens of Sudanese journalists protested for an end to censorship on Monday outside the offices of a respected newspaper whose editor was suspended by national security agents, a protester said.

“No to censorship,” said a sign carried by the group of about 70 journalists who gathered outside the Al-Sahafa newspaper offices, the protester said.

Security forces did not intervene.

Al-Nour Ahmed Al-Nour, chief editor of the daily, said last week that agents of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) told him he had been suspended — a rare action against such a prominent journalist.

He said the decision appeared to be linked to a dispute over censorship, which journalists say the NISS continues to impose.

Reporters and press freedom advocates have complained that some Sudanese journalists were banned from writing and that NISS agents regularly block the distribution of papers.

Other newspapers have been suspended from publishing, but Nour is the first chief editor to be removed.

The incident prompted Sudan’s government-run press council on Sunday to issue its strongest statement in years.

The council, which licenses newspapers and registers journalists, accused the NISS of interference and called on authorities to disband the press body if it cannot function.

Journalists on Monday also delivered a message to the press council, asking for an end to censorship and for Nour to be reinstated, the protester said.

“There is this incredible situation in Sudan in which the intelligence services decide how the media are run and who they appoint,” Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said last week.

“Totally opposed to freedom of information, they call all the shots, censor articles, confiscate newspapers and harass journalists.”

There has been no improvement in freedom of information despite President Omar al-Bashir’s recent “conciliatory gestures” including releasing some political prisoners, RSF said.

Government officials have said freedom of expression has greatly improved over the past two decades.

Sudan ranks near the bottom of a global press freedom index compiled by RSF.