Sudanese soldiers stand guard as demonstrators rally near the army headquarters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, April 11, 2019. © 2019 AFP

On July 18, the Sudanese army issued a statement saying they had appointed a special commissioner to bring lawsuits against individuals who “insult” the army, including activists and journalists, both in and outside of Sudan, who write online.  

The army spokesperson invoked the troublesome Cybercrimes Act, an overly broad law introduced in 2007 that has been used by the former regime to target online critics. The act criminalizes the vague concept of the “spread of false news” and publication of “indecent materials.” Recent amendments did not correct the law’s problematic provisions, but instead increased prison sentences.

The army also threatened to use the Publication and Newspapers Act and “crimes against the state” provisions in the Criminal Act of 1991. Both were often used by the former regime to harass real or perceived opponents.

The army’s move – despite recent positive law reforms – underscores that far too many problematic laws remain in place and can be used to restrict basic freedoms, contravening Sudan’s constitutional declaration.

Two recent incidents raise further concerns. On a TV talk show on July 21, in which guests were discussing the army’s statement, an army major general threatened to bring a complaint against a journalist on the show for “exposing” military secrets after the journalist criticized the army’s handling of well-publicized past incidents of attacks on Sudan’s military.

Earlier in the month, army personnel threatened a young woman protester who appeared on a widely-circulated social media clip chanting against the military. She and her family received several calls from men who identified themselves as military officers threatening a lawsuit against her for “use of curses against the army.”

As one journalist commented to me, such threats by the army are reminiscent of the military-backed government in Egypt, where a crackdown on journalists and activists following the 2011 uprising has only intensified over the years, and similar restrictive laws have been adopted in the name of protecting the army’s reputation.

The Sudan army’s threats against critics – including protesters who helped oust the former government and bring the current transitional government into power – understandably raises alarms for citizens. Sudan’s leaders should demonstrate commitment to the rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitutional declaration and take quick steps to ensure no agents of the state can use problematic laws to silence dissent.