(New York, August 1, 2003) The government of Sudan must restore the license of the country's largest English-language newspaper and allow it and other newspapers to publish freely, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch is also asking the government to investigate accusations by the Monitor's editor, Nhial Bol, that a vehicle crashed into his car on July 13 in the Kobar section of Khartoum in a government-sponsored attempt to kill him.
The Sudanese Court of Crimes Against the State revoked the publishing license of the Khartoum Monitor on July 13 of this year because of an interview it published in 2001 on slavery in southern Sudan. The action closed the newspaper indefinitely. The court also convicted the Monitor's editor, Nhial Bol, and the article's author, William Ezekiel, of crimes against the state, and fined the newspaper 400,000 Sudanese dinars (U.S.$1,554).
"By closing the Monitor, the government is escalating its campaign against media criticism of its policies," said Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch. "This shutdown has a chilling effect on the entire news business in Sudan, reminding editors and owners that they publish at their peril."
The latest shutdown occurred just two days after the Monitor had resumed production after a 2-month closure. A Khartoum criminal court had ordered the newspaper shut down for two months for failure to pay criminal fines imposed on May 9. The fines penalized the paper's publisher for running an article that the court found "incited hatred" by allegedly misquoting the Qu'ran.
The Monitor and its employees have been harassed by security officials many times in the past year. In March, security forces confiscated an entire press run of the Monitor to prevent the publication of an article on Islam the government deemed offensive. The government also arrested and detained the article's author, Edward Tersu Lado, for ten days.
In early September 2002, security officials confiscated issues of the Monitor and interrogated its editors about articles it printed on the Machakos peace process between the government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army. In November, the government-controlled National Press Council suspended the newspaper for two days for an article on AIDS deemed too sexual.
Human Rights Watch awarded the Monitor in 2002 with a Hellman-Hammett grant, given to writers who are targets of political persecution.
The government of Sudan has not limited press censorship to the Monitor since seizing power in a military-Islamist coup in 1989. It often confiscates editions that go beyond Khartoum's unspoken "red line" and report on "forbidden" topics such as slavery, peace negotiations, opposition politicians, and the continuing armed conflict in western Sudan.
In February 2003, the government-controlled National Press Council instructed newspapers not to report on the Machakos process. This peace process, which may result in a new constitution and an end to the twenty-year civil war in which two million have died, has been in progress since June 2002 in Kenya
The Arabic-language Al Ra'i Al A'am daily newspaper came out in favor of the Machakos peace process on July 3, 2003. On July 4, security officers confiscated 7,000 copies of newspaper carrying that editorial. Security officials also confiscated copies of another Arabic-language daily, Alalwan, for printing the "Khartoum Declaration" of one hundred organizations, political parties, and individuals in favor of Machakos.
In early May, the Sudanese government also confiscated entire press runs of the Arabic-language Al Sahafa and Al Shari' Al Syasi newspapers in retaliation for articles both newspapers printed on the Darfur conflict.
Sudanese officials arrested Yousef al-Bashir Mousa, a journalist with Al Sahafa in the city of Nyala, on May 4 and held him for 10 days for reporting that Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was considering firing three state governors in the western region of Darfur.
"The right of the Sudanese people to know what is happening in their own country in these important matters of life and death, war and peace, is denied with each press run confiscated, every journalist detained and harassed," said Rone.