New media charter considered "worthless" by journalists
On 19th November 2018, the European Council highlighted Sudan's lack of respect for civic freedoms. In its conclusions, the Council urged the Sudanese authorities to uphold commitments to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. In particular, the statement voiced concern over the shrinking space for civil society ahead of upcoming elections in 2020. It said:
"...the Council remains deeply concerned about the shrinking space for the civil society and the persecutions against human rights defenders, students, political activists, and independent journalists and other media workers, as well as with the situation for women and girls."
The statement by the European Council comes after the adoption of Sudan's new Media Charter on 1st November 2018. While the charter acknowledges the unrestricted right to the freedom of expression, local groups claim it is worthless if Sudanese authorities continue to persecute independent journalists. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, critical newspapers are routinely confiscated in Sudan. As documented by Amnesty International, between January and October 2018 at least 15 journalists were arbitrarily arrested and detained for simply doing their job. Similarly, in this time period, the entire print run of 10 newspapers was also confiscated by Sudanese security forces on 27 occasions. It is recognised that these aggressive tactics have led to a situation where self-censorship is rife among journalists in Sudan.
Sudan's new media charter also imposes regulations on news outlets. In particular, the charter stipulates that no material or news about the Sudanese regular forces can published without authorisation by a government spokesperson. Unsurprisingly, local civil society groups have voiced opposition to the rules. A similar charter was implemented in 2009, which Sudanese authorities used as a pretext to interfere and censor with print based media. Given this background, the General coordinator of the Arab Network for Crisis Information mounted a fightback. In a statement, they said:
“The press will be subjected to more pressure in the future as a result of the signing of this charter. The head of the security apparatus said that the monitoring and censorship will remain present.”
The sentiment was echoed by other CSOs. The Sudanese Journalists Network also highlighted that the charter does not reflect journalists' opinions and called for solidarity among Sudan's journalistic community.
@SJNET: signing of the code of conduct by NISS in parliament tomorrow is worthless, & it doesn't represent the journalists#Sudan @USEmbassyKRT @EU_SUDAN @FCOIrfan @FranceauSoudan @CPJMENA @UKinSudan @pressfreedom @Karin_Boven @eblatmann @CPJAfrica @RSF_inter— Sudanese Journalists Network (@SJNET) October 31, 2018
@RSF_Africa @IFEX https://t.co/KZ7AMDjlBq
Amid, the restrictions, Sudanese journalists have also received recognition for their work. For instance, Committee to Protect Journalists' annual International Press Freedom Award was presented to Amal Habbani, who has suffered numerous threats and attacks. As a freelance journalist and contributor to the Sudanese news outlet Al-Taghyeer, Habbani has been repeatedly harassed and detained by Sudanese authorities for her work. Despite the highly challenging environment, Habbani fearlessly continued her work as an investigative journalist amid threats of harassment, detention and even violence. Upon receiving the award, Habbani stated that she hoped to shine a spotlight on Sudan's treatment of independent media groups and journalists. A video of her acceptance speech can be seen below.