Radio Dabanga, part of the Guardian Africa network and AFP
Sudanese security officers have confiscated the entire print-run of El Jareedadaily newspaper in Khartoum, following a punishing six months for the country’s media. In 2015 so far, 75 print runs from a variety of newspapers have been seized.
Ashraf Abdelaziz, editor-in-chief of El Jareeda, said recently that the security services were trying to exhaust the newspapers financially, as they still have to pay staff and printing presses regardless of the seizures.
In February, 14 daily papers were confiscated in one day, followed shortly by the seizure of copies of 17 further publications by the National Intelligence and Security Service (Niss).
Mahjoub Mohamed Salih, founder and editor-in-chief of El Ayam daily newspaper, estimates that newspapers with a circulation above 20,000 a day could lose up to 30m Sudanese pounds (nearly £532,301) each time, a significant amount in a country where most newspapers sell for just two Sudanese pounds.
This month the daily El Akhbar announced it would cease publication indefinitely at the end f June because of a “financial crisis”.
Media watchdog Reporters without Borders said that the “massive and indiscriminate seizures constitute an unacceptable act of censorship”.
Salih, a journalist for more than 60 years, said that his job has never been so difficult. He has been detained numerous times, banned from publishing for two years in the 1950s, and saw his newspaper nationalised for 16 years in 1970. But never, he said, has he witnessed so much pressure as now.
“This is the most difficult period to work as a journalist,” he said. “I keep my fingers crossed that tomorrow morning, I don’t get a telephone call telling me that my newspaper has not reached the reader,” he added.
El Ayam has been confiscated less often than some other newspapers, but fear of financial losses forced Salih to cut his circulation to just 3,000 copies a day.
Sudanese reporters have worked under strict surveillance since the president,Omar al-Bashir, seized power in a Islamist-backed coup in 1989.
Pre-publication censorship was abolished in 2009 but in reality little has changed.Sudan still ranks 174th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Border’s 2015 World Press Freedom Index.
“This is the most difficult period to work as a journalist,” Salih explained.
Today, newspapers face a long, unwritten list of off-limit topics, he said: “The whole picture is painted red, there isn’t a red line.”
Officially, the Ministry of Information and the government-run Press Council are meant to oversee the media, and apply the country’s laws. But Niss has free rein to carry out its seizures, often without informing the Press Council or the editors of the newspapers.
“All press issues are dealt with by the security apparatus,” the editor-in-chief of El Ayam said.
The print license of the pro-government political daily El Intibaha was suspended in May for more than two weeks over an article that mentioned child abuse in Sudan.
Like Salih, editor-in-chief of El Intibaha, El Sadig El Rizeigi, said that the country’s journalists are facing difficulties like never before. “In the past, the security apparatus had red lines linked to politics and security. But the last confiscation of ten newspapers on one day was because of an article about a social issue.”
Niss usually does not provide an official explanation for the confiscation of newspapers. “We have to resort to guesswork, and this is an unprecedented situation,” Salih said.