Sudan Detains Reuters and AFP Reporters Covering Khartoum Protests

Relations between Washington and Khartoum improved significantly under the administration of former US president Barack Obama, who had in January eased the sanctions imposed in 1997 with a view to lifting them completely after a review period
AFP ASHRAF SHAZLY

Sudan has detained a Reuters stringer and a reporter for Agence France-Presse (AFP) who were covering sometimes-violent protests against rising food prices and government austerity measures.

Reuters reports that it lost contact with its stringer on Wednesday after he set out to report on demonstrations in the capital city of Khartoum. AFP said its reporter, 51-year-old Abdelmoneim Abu Idris Ali, was arrested on Wednesday by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) at protests in the city of Omdurman.

The NISS notified AFP of the arrest on Thursday and said Ali would be released within hours, but over 24 hours later he is still in detention.

Reuters did not name the stringer that was arrested, and said it was given no details about the “circumstances of the detention.” A Sudanese official told Reuters the journalists would be released on Thursday. When that did not happen, the same official was contacted on Friday and would not say whether charges would be filed.

“AFP management strongly condemns the arrest of Mr. Idris Ali and asks Sudanese authorities for his immediate release,” the press agency said in a statement.

Sudanese authorities said a third journalist was also in custody, but have not yet provided any information about this third detainee. They said all three are being “investigated” for unspecified reasons.

Unrest broke out in Sudan after a wheat shortage led to rising prices for flour and bread. Reuters attributes some of the public anger to “tough economic measures imposed in line with recommendations by the International Monetary Fund.”

In December, the IMF urged Sudan to take measures such as floating its currency, eliminating the monetization of deficits, broadening the tax base, and phasing out subsidies for energy and wheat in favor of direct assistance to the poor. Sudan’s 2018 budget implemented some of these measures, including a currency devaluation that left Sudanese currency trading at 18 pounds to the dollar, down from six pounds to the dollar.

Protests this week near the presidential palace in Khartoum, urged by both the Islamist National Umma Party and the Communist Party of Sudan, led to police deploying tear gas and beating demonstrators with batons. The Communist Party said it would continue to hold protests despite the government denying its application for a permit.

“By arresting and intimidating journalists, confiscating newspapers and attempting to censor news dissemination, the Sudanese authorities keep trying to get journalists to stick to the official narrative or pay the price,” declared Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ said that five local journalists have also been arrested.

The Sudanese government has vaguely excused the arrests and crackdown on protesters as necessary to head off more severe violence, but critics note that Sudan has an appalling record when it comes to press freedom under the leadership of President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

In fact, it doesn’t get much worse than Sudan for press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders, which ranks Sudan 174th out of 180 countries.

“The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) hounds journalists and censors the print media by closing down newspapers such as Al-Tayar, Al-Jareeda and Al-Watan, or by confiscating entire issues as they come off the press,” Reporters Without Borders observes, referring to the same Sudanese agency known to have arrested AFP’s reporter.

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