Sudan army says protest site a threat, closes Al Jazeera office

Military rulers warn action to be taken against 'unruly elements' at Khartoum sit-in, main point of protest movement.

    Sudanese protesters orchestrated a two-day strike observed earlier this week [Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters]
    Sudanese protesters orchestrated a two-day strike observed earlier this week [Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters]

    Sudan's military rulers have said a protest camp in the capital has become a threat to the country's national security, while also ordering the office of the Al Jazeera Media Network in Khartoum to be shut down, without giving any reason.

    In a televised statement, a spokesman of the transitional military council said on Thursday that legal action would be taken against what it called "unruly elements" at the encampment outside the defence ministry, where protesters have been staging a sit-in for weeks.

    "The protest site has become unsafe and represents a danger to the revolution and the revolutionaries and threatens the coherence of the state and its national security," said General Bahar Ahmed Bahar, head of the central region in Khartoum.

    He said that a military vehicle used by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) had been attacked and seized near the encampment.

    The site has become the central point of Sudan's protest movement, which saw longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir overthrown last month and has since been calling for the generals who replaced him to hand over power to a civilian-led administration.

    Tens of thousands of protesters had converged on the encampment heeding a call by protest leaders to step up pressure on Sudan's military rulers following a two-day strike observed earlier this week. Protesters have accused the RSF of trying to undermine a transition to democracy, a charge the force denies.

    'Attack on media freedom'

    Separately, security officers informed Al Jazeera of the military council's decision to close the network's office in Khartoum.

    The decision also included the withdrawal of the work permits for the correspondents and staff of the Qatar-based network with immediate effect.

    In a statement, Al Jazeera denounced the "abrupt" closure of its bureau in Khartoum and the banning of its reporters from reporting in the country, calling it "a complete violation of the freedom of the press".

    "The network sees this as an attack on media freedom, professional journalism, and the basic tenets of the right for people to know and understand the reality of what is happening in Sudan," the statement said.

    Al Jazeera called for the immediate resumption of operations of its Khartoum bureau and said it would continue its coverage of Sudan "despite this political interference by the Sudanese authorities".

    There was no official acknowledgement from Sudan's government over the move.

    Barbara Trionfi, an executive director at the International Press Institute (IPI), said the Vienna-based organisation had registered "numerous attacks on journalists, from detentions to physical attacks and administrative measures", in Sudan within the last month.

    "We found it very disturbing that the transitional military council, which has been charged with ensuring a peaceful transition to democracy, is itself failing to respect the fundamental principles of press freedom," Trionfi told Al Jazeera.

    "The free exchange of news and information is core to any society … it is vital that the different groups in society are able to express their views and opinions in order to allow the democratic process and eventually voters to cast their votes," she added.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies