(New York, September 11, 2002) The government of Sudan should end its recent crackdown on the press, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the Sudanese president today.
In the past week, the government's National Press Council (NPC) has confiscated entire daily editions of three newspapers. Security forces called the editors in for questioning, demanding that they stop printing articles critical of government decisions. They also arrested Osman Mergani, a journalist with Al Ra‛i Al A'am, an Arabic-language newspaper, on September 3, and held and questioned him for two days.
Mr. Mergani had criticized the government pullout from the Machakos peace talks on Al Jazeera international television on September 3.
"The Sudanese government is cracking down on people who criticize its pullout from the peace negotiations," said Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch. "This represents a real deterioration in human rights in Sudan."
The Sudanese government announced on September 1, 2002, that it was withdrawing from internationally-sponsored talks with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in Machakos, Kenya.
On September 4, the NPC targeted the English-language Khartoum Monitor and the Arabic-language Al-Horiyah, confiscating issues and interrogating editors. These newspapers had criticized the decision to pull out of negotiations with the rebel SPLM/A in Kenya. The Monitor had run a story featuring the Dinka of Abyei, who was pressing in the peace talks that their town be included in the south. The government wants it included in northern Sudan.
The crackdown on the monitor came on the heels of a July decision to heavily fine the Monitor for other articles unpopular with government officials.
On September 5, the NPC moved against another Arabic-language newspaper, Al Sahafa. Government authorities confiscated the newspaper's entire press run after it had published a piece critical of the government withdrawal from the Machakos negotiations.