The Sudanese military authorities must immediately stop arresting journalists and must end the internet shutdown imposed in the wake of Monday’s military coup, the IPI global network of journalists, editors and executives said today.
On Monday, October 25, military head Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan seized power and arrested Sudan’s prime minister, Abdalla Homdok, as well as other government officials, declaring a state of emergency after thousands of protesters flooded Khartoum’s street in opposition.
In the wake of the coup, several journalists have been beaten or detained. On October 26, Fayez Selik, a prominent Sudanese journalist working for independent daily El Demokrati, was detained by authorities in Khartoum after leaving the Al Jazeera studios, where he had given an interview criticizing and condemning the Sudanese military coup. On October 25, Maher Abugoukh, a news manager at Sudan’s state broadcaster, was arrested at his home in Khartoum, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported. On Thursday, October 28, the manager of the Democrat newspaper, El-Haj Warrag, was arrested at his home. Several journalists who were seized from their offices were released, while others are still missing, the Guardian reported.
In addition, from Monday onwards, Sudan’s internet services as well as several telecommunications services have been severely disrupted, as reported by the international digital rights groups Netblocks and Access Now. Although the lines were on air shortly on October 27 between 4 pm and 5:30 pm, Netblocks reported, the internet has now been disrupted for more than 64 hours already.
“Sudan’s civilian and military authorities must immediately release any detained journalists, allow the press to report freely on ongoing events in the country, and lift all blocks on the internet”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “This week’s attacks on journalists, in connection with the shutdown of internet and communication services, are extremely disturbing and require a strong international response.”
“The military coup in Sudan and the subsequent attacks on free expression echo recent military-led crackdowns in countries such as Myanmar, where the media have also been targeted. Pressure must be placed on Sudan’s military leaders to return to democratic order, including respect for press freedom as a fundamental right. The increased freedoms won by Sudan’s media in the wake of the transition to democratic government are now at severe risk of being rolled back. They must be protected.”
Instances of attacks on journalists had already occurred in the days before the coup. On October 23, the independent Sudan News Agency (SUNA) was raided by supporters of the former president Omar al-Bashir to end a press conference, the agency wrote in a report. Journalist Al-Ahmadi Farah’s hand was broken by the supporters with Farah having to get surgery. The same day, in a separate incident, Al-Jazeera’s Khartoum correspondent, Marwan Najm Al-Din, was attacked while he covered a sit-in demonstration at the presidential palace, according to the news site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. On October 24, military forces raided Sudan’s state broadcaster and cut the television broadcasting signal, the Ministry of Culture and Information wrote in a Facebook post.
Sudan has a history of shutting down the internet in military crises to silence opposition voices. On December 19, 2018, the Sudanese government blocked social media access to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram, amid a revolution that eventually toppled the rule of autocrat Omar al-Bashir. The ban lasted until February 26, 2019. On April 11, 2019, after the collapse of the Bashir government, the transitional government took power. After mass protests of citizens supporting the opposition, the internet was shut down again between June 3, 2019 and July 9, 2019.
According to internet provider Surfshark, 31 out of 54 countries in Africa, including Sudan, have blocked access to social media platforms since 2015. Of this group, according to the research 54 percent of affected countries experienced blockings related to elections and 26 percent to political protests.