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Newspaper suspended, two journalists arrested and released, four others summoned

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has called for the immediate reappearance of the Arabic-language daily "Al-Ayam", which was suspended on 16 November 2003. The organisation has also condemned the harassment of journalists by the security services.

One of Sudan's leading dailies, "Al-Ayam", which marked its 50th anniversary in October, has been suspended indefinitely on the order of the state prosecutor in charge of subversion crimes, Mohammed Farid Hassan, under Article 130 of the 1991 Code of Criminal Procedure, paragraphs 1 and 3. The daily is accused of "threatening the security and stability" of the country.

"This latest repressive campaign inflicted on the Sudanese press is particularly disturbing, all the more so since the security forces use draconian laws to silence independent publications and to ruin them financially," said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard.

"One month ago, Sudan's permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva stated that there would be no further censorship or suspension of newspapers! As long as the existing draconian laws are not repealed and the security forces continue to crack down on the press, freedom of expression will remain under threat," Ménard added.

Mahjoub Mohamed Salih, editor-in-chief of "Al-Ayam" and a pivotal figure in the independent press, told RSF, "This step clearly demonstrates the [authorities'] determination to sink the newspaper financially, otherwise the management would have been informed [of the suspension] before going to press, that is to say, before 2:00 a.m."

On 18 November, the Prosecutor's Office summoned Salih along with journalist Murtada Al-Ghali. On 11 November, the state prosecutor in charge of subversion crimes summoned former "Al-Ayam" staffer Hayder Almukashi and "Al-Ayam" journalist Tag Alsir Mekki, without giving any official reason.

The authorities appear determined to gag any media outlet that oversteps the official line on the peace agreement and particularly on events in southern Sudan. Security forces arrested correspondents Gasim Tah, of "Al Sahafa" newspaper, and Mouhanad Hussain, of "Akhbar Alyom", at Niala on 15 November and released them the same day. The two journalists had been preparing a report on an Arabic militia's torching of two villages in South Darfour province.

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