The closure of six Sudanese newspapers represents another blow to press freedom, according to media watchdog organisations.
On 27 July, the Sudanese National Council for Press and Publications revoked the license of the daily newspaper Ajras Al-Hurriya.
Only days after South Sudan’s independence, Khartoum authorities froze publications of the Khartoum Monitor, the Juba Post, Sudan Tribune, The Advocate and The Democrat. The reason given was that publishers are required to be Sudanese citizens, and South Sudanese are now considered “foreigners” according to law.
Ajras al-Hurriya (“Bells of Freedom”) had already suspended its daily publication just before South Sudan’s secession because one of the shareholders of the company is a southerner.
The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said the decision to halt publication of the Sudanese newspapers “has to be reviewed by (Khartoum) authorities.”
Interpretations of the closure range from mere respect of legal regulations to blatant censorship.
According to Al-Obeid Meruh, secretary-general of the Press Council, it has nothing to do with a decision to restrict press freedom. “The 2009 press act does not allow foreigners to be a part of the ownership of newspapers,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
But to a journalist who wished to remain anonymous, that’s too simple an explanation. “It seems the council was not aware of this clause in the press act; now they’ve discovered it after twenty days of suspension,” she said.
“The decision of the council is wrong,” said Nabeel Adeeb, a lawyer. “The council has no right to revoke the license of a newspaper.”
Only when the newspaper has committed any violations does the court have the right to close down a publication, he explained. “The (Press) council is not independent because it had orders.”
Al-Hurriya has been suspended more than 12 times since its first publication.
“The letter to withdraw the license came only after (the council) imposed impossible conditions for re-certification, which confirms the bad faith by the board and the government,” Adeeb said.
All of the dailies shut down have links to South Sudan. Hussein Saad, Ajras Al-Hurriya’s managing director, said the closure of his paper is a purely political move; others call it “racist.”
“It is because the paper is close to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the (Sudanese) opposition,” he told AFP.