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Africa
Sudan lifts media censorship
Journalists cautiously welcome government's move ahead of national election.
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2009 21:12 GMT
The Darfur conflict and other 'sensitive' issues have been targets for censorship in Sudan [AFP]

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's president, has ordered an immediate end to state censorship of the media ahead of the country's first elections in almost 25 years.

In a decree carried by the official Suna news agency on Sunday, al-Bashir put an end to "pre-censorship", the system where newspapers are screened by state censors before being available to the public.

"We had a meeting with President al-Bashir. He ordered a stop to censorship from today," Ali Shomo, the chairman of Sudan's national press council, the state regulator, said.

Editors gave the announcement a cautious welcome, but some said they would still face pressure over sensitive stories.

Sudan's Ajras al-Huriya newspaper, which is linked to the former southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement, warned that journalists would still face pressure when writing about Darfur and other highly charged topics.

"There is no way they [the security services] are going to tolerate anything about security, about the International Criminal Court," said Faisal Silaik, the paper's deputy editor-in-chief.

Press freedom

Sudan's journalists have complained of regular censorship, saying security officers often visit their offices to check and sometimes remove articles ahead of publication, despite constitutional guarantees of a free media.

"We are expecting the general election. It is very important to have a free press in such circumstances"

Fadlallah Mohamed,
editor of al-Khartoum

Editors say print-runs have been seized and titles shut down, particularly when writers tried to tackle controversial subjects such as the Darfur conflict and the International Criminal Court's war crimes case against al-Bashir.

Fadlallah Mohamed, the editor of independent al-Khartoum newspaper, said the move was "important" ahead of the national election due in April 2010 under the terms of a faltering 2005 peace deal that ended the country's north-south civil war.

"Censorship is contrary to free press in Sudan," he said.

"We are expecting the general election. It is very important to have a free press in such circumstances."

Code of conduct

Sudan, Africa's largest country, boasts around 30 titles in both English and Arabic, and spanning the country's political spectrum.

In June, parliament passed a law guaranteeing "freedom of the press", but while the law was meant to guarantee freedoms, in practice, censors continued to exercise their powers.

Sunday's announcement came two weeks after newspaper editors said they sat down with officers from Sudan's national security service to sign a code of journalistic conduct.

The document, seen by news agencies, included broad promises for newspapers to be fair in their reporting, to respect religious and racial differences and to obey the law.

Sudanese reporters have been arrested during rare public protests against censorship and have won the support of rights bodies including the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists and France's Reporters Sans Frontieres.

The press law, and the lifting of censorship in Sudan, apply only to the written press and not to television media, which is largely controlled by the state.

Source:
Agencies
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