Following a series of incidents, the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum have expressed their serious concern about the press freedom situation in Sudan. Recently, journalists have been detained for their reporting, human rights activists detained and beaten, and foreign journalists expelled from the country. In a letter to President Omar Al Bahir, WAN and WEF call on the Sudanese government to respect international standards of freedom of expression.
The full letter:
His Excellency President Omar Al Bashir
President of Sudan
6 March 2009
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 102 countries, to express our serious concern at the deteriorating situation of press freedom in your country.
The Sudanese government appears to be intensifying its campaign to intimidate journalists and others who criticise the authorities. In recent months, three activists have been detained for voicing support for human rights, two of whom were also severely beaten, and Canadian-Egyptian journalist Heba Aly - who has worked for the Globe and Mail, CBC Radio, U.S. news agency Bloomberg and the United Nations news service IRIN - was expelled from the country after making an inquiry about domestic arms production. This follows the arrest and detention of at least three journalists last year for criticising the ruling party.
Censorship in Khartoum is routine, with security agents systematically visiting the few independent newspapers operating in the capital to review final editions and censor articles they regard as undesirable. At least five newspapers have been suspended following such visits.
We are concerned that harassment, repression and censorship have intensified since the International Criminal Court's request for a warrant for your arrest last July. We are also concerned that the authorities are strengthening their grip on information ahead of elections - the first for 20 years - scheduled for later this year.
We respectfully remind you that intimidating journalists and censoring newspapers constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states: 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.'
We respectfully call on you to immediately halt the intimidation of journalists and censorship of newspapers. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that in future your government fully respects international standards of freedom of expression.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
World Association of Newspapers
World Editors Forum