Sudan journalists rally against restrictions

Demonstration held as government merges ministries and opposition parties sign common charter for democratic transition.

    More than 100 Sudanese journalists have protested in Khartoum against censorship and other media restrictions, activists have said, amid a government crackdown on unprecedented anti-government demonstrations.

    "It was a very big crowd compared to other events we organised before," veteran journalist Faisal Mohammed Salih said on Wednesday.

    He said scores of his colleagues gathered in front of Sudan's Human Rights Commission but others, blocked by state security agents, clustered nearby in three or four groups.

    Security agents told the journalists not to hoist banners, Salih added.

    The journalists submitted a written memo to the rights commission, "complaining about censorship and continued harassment of journalists", he said.

    "We know that they are going to do nothing but anyway they welcomed us," and said they are working to improve freedom of expression.

    Salih said there were "small clashes" with security forces and two journalists were briefly detained.

    'Growing censorship'

    On Saturday, Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, had expressed concern at "growing levels of censorship and restrictions on the media and the political opposition in Sudan, including the detention of a number of journalists and political activists".

    Canada and the UK have made similar statements since protests against the government of President Omar al-Bashir, sparked by austerity measures and rising prices, began more than two weeks ago across Sudan.

    Subsidy cuts increased the cost of public transportation and doubled the price of fuel and food.

    The unprecedented demonstrations by students and others have been met by what the EU called "a violent crackdown".

    On Friday, armed security agents raided the bureau of the AFP news agency in Khartoum and detained a freelance photographer after he arrived with pictures he had taken of an anti-government protest.

    The photographer was released after almost 24 hours.

    Two weeks ago, national security agents held AFP correspondent Simon Martelli for 14 hours without charge after he talked to students and took pictures at the University of Khartoum, where the protests originated.

    Egyptian Salma El Wardany, a correspondent for international news wire Bloomberg, was deported last week after also being detained while trying to cover the country's protest movement.

    Even before the June 16 outbreak of demonstrations against high prices, journalists and press freedom advocates said there had been a worsening government attack against critical voices over the past year, with journalists banned from writing, newspapers confiscated after printing, and some ordered to suspend publication.

    Ministries merged

    Sudan's state news agency said that five government ministries will be merged as part of the austerity measures.

    Supporters from Sudan's main opposition parties sign a document requesting for democratic alternatives [Reuters]

    The latest move was approved by Bashir on Wednesday by and reduces the number of cabinet posts from 31 to 26.

    Bashir has explained the need for belt-tightening steps by noting that since the secession of South Sudan, oil revenues have dwindled.

    He also pointed to the cost of the ongoing conflict with South Sudan.

    Also on Wednesday, mainstream opposition parties officially declared "the start of a peaceful campaign to topple the government".

    In a rare show of unity, the parties agreed on a political charter for the post-government period.

    The members of the National Consensus signed the "Democratic Alternative" during a news conference in Khartoum.

    They say the document will prevent a power vacuum and pave the way for an orderly transfer of power if Bashir falls.

    The president, who has been in power for 23 years, has also been charged by the International Criminal Court with war crimes over a long conflict in Darfur.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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