By Andrew Heavens
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - More than 150 Sudanese journalists and support staff on Tuesday started a 24-hour hunger strike to protest against censorship by state security services, media executives said.
They added three opposition newspapers would shut down for three days, and writers from other publications would withdraw their columns to highlight a growing crackdown on media.
"We are being censored every day," said Ajras al-Huriya newspaper's general manager Saleh Ahmed Mohammed Elhag at the protest launch.
No one was immediately available for comment from Sudan's security service or its ministry of information.
Freedom of the press was guaranteed in Sudan, which produces 500,00 barrels of oil a day, in a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war, but newspaper journalists repeatedly complain about nightly visits from security officers who check copy and order editors to remove sensitive articles.
Reporters and human rights activists say the current crackdown started in February after newspapers published reports accusing the government of backing Chadian rebels in a failed coup attempt. The government denies the charge.
Elhag said he had been ordered to remove so many articles that he had been forced to pull entire editions more than 20 times since the paper's launch in April. The daily Ajras al-Huriya is closely linked to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the main political party in the south and part of a national coalition government set up after the peace deal.
The semi-autonomous Government of South Sudan, led by the SPLM, has also been accused of stifling press freedoms. An editor was held for three days last month after publishing articles criticising high government salaries.
Elhag said the newspapers Rai Al-Shaab, linked to the opposition Popular Congress Party, and Al Midan, linked to Sudan's Communists, were also taking part in the hunger strike and three-day shut-down.
The combined staff of all three papers, including office workers, amounted to more than 150, although journalists from other papers could push the total participation higher, he said.
Ajras al-Huriya columnist Yai Joseph said he had been censored on a range of subjects including the Darfur conflict, corruption allegations, food price hikes and pollution.
"I have been interrogated many times by security officers," said Amal Abbas, a columnist for Al-Sahafa newspaper who is taking part in the hunger strike and suspending her column.
Senior SPLM official Edward Lino, one of a number of prominent opposition figures at the launch, said censors had ordered Ajras al-Huriya to remove an interview with him from Tuesday's edition.
"Censorship will effect how people will campaign in the elections (promised in 2009 by the north-south peace deal).It will effect how people are going to be shown what is going on. It will effect how the results come out," he said.