AFEX Deplores Massive Crackdown on Free Expression Rights by Sudanese Army

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) condemns the ongoing violations of the freedom of expression rights of the Sudanese people and urges the military in Sudan to put an end to the numerous infractions against media organisations, journalists and protesters.

Sudan’s military council on May 30, 2019 shut down the Khartoum office of news broadcaster, Al Jazeera in an attempt to stop the TV channel from covering the ongoing protests and other developments in the country. According to media reports, the authorities also raided the bureau of the station, confiscated some of its broadcast equipment and revoked licenses of staff of the Qatar-based TV station while ordering them to leave the country. 

That action is the latest in a series of military crackdown on media independence and press freedom in the country.

On May 27, 2019, a military force raided the premises of a news agency, Ramtna Agency for Media Production in Khartoum. The soldiers arrested a producer, a camera man, and manager of the firm. The military also confiscated equipment, cameras, computers in addition documents belonging to the Media house without any reasons. The action is believed to be linked the Ramtna’s extensive coverage of the protests in the country.

Earlier on May 14, 2019, the National Press Council, media regulatory body in Sudan censored the media by ordering them to desist from publishing articles on corruption cases in the country. The directive which was conveyed in a letter to media houses in Sudan said such articles could prejudice corruption cases before the court.

Besides the repression against media houses, individual journalists have also been targeted in the ongoing clampdown.

On May 21, 2019, officials of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary unit arrested and detained overnight, journalist, Wael Mohamed El Hassan. The security agents interrogated El Hassan alongside a number of journalists who had participated in a media vigil held at the Omdurman Television Station. The vigil, organised by media associations in Sudan was in protest of the increasing press freedom and human rights abuses recorded in the country.

Similarly, Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and RSF Intelligence on May 25, 2019 denied six media personnel access to the premises of the Sudan National Television after they had participated in peaceful protests organised by the Sudanese Media Men Alliance the previous week. (May 15, 2019)

Also, the Media Council ordered the Director General of the National TV Corporation to stop broadcasting a political discussion programme on TV after he had hosted a number of journalists on the programme the previous day.

The violations turned bloody on May 14, 2019 when Members of the Sudanese security forces shot and killed five protesters. An army officer also died in the overnight clashes between soldiers and protesters.

In a separate incident, the Sudanese committee of doctors also reported that security forces had on May 30, 2019 killed a young man who was a few meters away from the military headquarters where protesters have been picketing for the past couple of weeks. On the same day, (May 30) Maj Gen Othman Hamed of Sudan’s paramilitary,  RSF described the sit-in protests as a threat to ‘national security.’

These violations are a painful irony for the Sudanese people whose months of protests led to the ouster of long-serving military strongman, Omar al-Bashir. It is unacceptable for the ruling Junta which came to power on the back of these demonstrations to turn round and brutalise the people.  

AFEX condemns the military’s attempt to entrench themselves in breach of Sudan’s constitution and its disregard for several calls by the international community including the African Union (AU) to cede power to a civilian administration.

We urge the AU and the UN to call the Sudanese Junta to order by imposing diplomatic sanctions targeted at members of the regime.

AFEX further calls on the military to halt the crackdown on press freedom and human rights in the country.