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SUDAN: Radio clampdown criticized
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Nov 8, 2010 - 7:49:22 AM

SUDAN: Radio clampdown criticized

Sudan is preparing for a January referendum when the South might separate from the North.
Nairobi, 5 November 2010 (IRIN) - A recent move by the Sudanese government to shut down Radio Dabanga, one of the few stations still reporting on the conflict in Darfur, comes at a critical point in Sudan's politics, human rights and media officials say, as the country prepares for a January referendum when the South could secede from the North.

"The government appears to be targeting this group of people [media] for their important work on Darfur, not because they committed any crime," Rona Peligal, the Africa Director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), said.

Sudanese authorities shut down Radio Dabanga – a Dutch registered media outlet - on 1 November on allegations that it had violated the country's airwaves. The station’s contact person in Khartoum and several others were also arrested.

Hildebrand Bijleveld, the director of Radio Dabanga, told IRIN: "The under-secretary of the ministry of information and communications said Radio Dabanga had not been registered in Sudan and had violated the airwaves of Sudan. But we were not broadcasting from inside Sudan so we do not know what the official charges can be. Since everybody has the right to have legal assistance we expect soon to hear what the charges will be."

Bijleveld said the office space rented by the radio station and shared with the human rights organizations, All for Peace, and Human Rights and Advocacy Network for Democracy (HAND), had been closed.

Ambroise Pierre, head of the Africa desk for Reporters Without Borders, said his organization was investigating the arrests, "but we are afraid the episode shows the determination of the Sudanese government to limit press freedom during this critical political time, when, so far, journalists' civil liberties are already hampered by the filling of questionnaires that would track them geographically, socially and politically and somehow indirectly plague their reporting for fear of repercussions".

The arrests were made despite the Sudanese constitution providing for freedom of expression and of the press.

On 7 July, the government announced an indefinite ban on the Arabic-language daily, al-Intibaha and two others, Elhurrah and Akhbar Alyoum, for two days. Six other publications were hit by censorship, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Since the issuance of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for President Omar al-Bashir on 4 March 2009, little public information has been available about the conflict and human rights concerns in Darfur, according to HRW.

"The combination of government control, daily censorship of independent media, and abuse and harassment of journalists by the [national intelligence services] is a severe barrier to freedom of expression and access to information in Sudan," HRW stated in 2009 report on the media climate in Sudan.


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