By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Dozens of journalists marched in Khartoum on Monday to demand an end to a crackdown on press freedom amidst the most sustained challenge to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir since he took power in a 1989 coup.
Protesters have been taking to the streets frequently across Sudan since Dec. 19. The protests were initially triggered by price rises and cash shortages but evolved into demonstrations against Bashir and his National Congress Party.
Monday’s protesters carried a large banner that read “Free press or no press” as they walked down a main street in the Sudanese capital. They chanted “journalism is the voice of the people” and “the revolution is the choice of the people”.
Since the wave of demonstrations began, 90 journalists have been detained, according to the Sudanese Journalists’ Network, an anti-government group of journalists that organised Monday’s protest. Most have since been released, the group said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says the number of arrests is unprecedented, but that it is impossible to give an exact figure because journalists have been arrested then freed, with this happening to some more than once.
The CPJ has also said that Sudanese authorities have tried to censor news coverage of the protests and that they have blocked access to popular social media platforms.
Othman Mirghani, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper al-Tayar, and one of Sudan’s most prominent journalists, was arrested at his Khartoum office on Feb. 22, the same day Bashir declared a state of emergency, his family said.
He was detained shortly after a televised interview in which he criticized Bashir’s declaration of a state of emergency, according to relatives. They said Mirghani remains in custody, but has still not been charged.
The Sudanese information ministry told Reuters that the state of press freedom in Sudan is good.
“Opposition party newspapers are issued in Khartoum and the freedom to demonstrate is guaranteed by the constitution,” said Information Minister Hassan Ismail. “There is no political crisis in Sudan, but there is an economic crisis.”
He added that his ministry has requested information about the reasons behind Mirghani’s arrest and that he will be meeting the director of the National Security and Intelligence Service on Tuesday to discuss Mirghani and other issues.
Bashir last month also dissolved the central government, replaced state governors with security officials, expanded police powers and banned unlicensed public gatherings. That has not deterred protesters from staging regular rallies.
(Additional reporting and writing by Lena Masri in Cairo; Editing by Mark Heinrich)