Sudan has stepped up harassment of journalists, censorship, and arrests of political opponents in the wake of recent fighting with South Sudan, Human Rights Watch said today.
“Sudan is cracking down on civil and political rights in the face of conflict and opposition,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But locking up critics and silencing dissent will not solve Sudan’s problems.”
Fighting in mid-April, 2012, between Sudan and South Sudan, which became independent on July 9, 2011, along their disputed border provoked an atmosphere of heightened hostility accompanied by increased repression in Sudan. Security officials have harassed and threatened journalists and political opposition members and more than 15 journalists have been banned from working in recent months, according to journalist groups in Sudan.
In one high-profile example, National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) officials summoned a prominent Sudanese journalist and human rights defender, Faisal Mohamed Salih, to their office in Khartoum for several hours of questioning on the night of April 25 about comments he made on Al Jazeera’s Arabic television. Salih teaches journalism and is known as an independent, non-partisan commentator.
NISS released Salih at midnight but ordered him to report back daily to its office. He sat in the reception area all day each day for nearly two weeks, a strategy “to humiliate me and obstruct my work,” Salih wrote in a statement about his ordeal on May 7. After he refused to appear voluntarily, security officials went to his home and compelled his appearance twice, on May 8 and May 9. Officials lodged criminal charges against him on May 15 for refusing to cooperate with their orders. If convicted, he faces up to a month in jail.
“It is clear he is being targeted only because he criticized the government policies,” Faisal al-Baqir, a Sudanese advocate for media freedoms, told Human Rights Watch. “They want to deny him his right to talk.”
Salih had commented on a speech by President Omar al-Bashir on April 19 in which al-Bashir vowed to take over South Sudan and referred to the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement as “insects.”
Al-Bashir delivered the widely-publicized speech the day South Sudan announced its withdrawal from Heglig, the oil-producing area near the disputed territory of Abyei that the South claims. The two armies fought in the Heglig area for more than a week in mid-April, while Sudanese air forces bombed strategic locations in South Sudan.
While government officials engaged in war talk and conservative newspapers such as Intibaha published hostile rhetoric toward the south and toward non-Muslims, authorities clamped down on writings critical of the government, Human Rights Watch said.