Oral Intervention on the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa

The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) would like to highlight the sharply deteriorating space for freedom of expression in Sudan.

The past 15 months have been marred by arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of civil society members in Sudan for expressing views contrary to those of the Government. Representatives from political opposition parties, youth movements, civil society organisations, journalists, bloggers and other independent activists have been targeted and detained without charge by the authorities. Independent media and publishers have been censored.

Madame Chair,

We are fearful that the little space for free expression is being closed in Sudan. Between 24-31December 2012, Sudanese authorities shut down three civil society organisations and one literary forum without giving any reasons or serving legal papers. The Sudanese Studies Centre (SSC), working to promote dialogue on culture and democracy, ARRY Organisation for Human Rights and Development, monitoring and documenting human rights violations in South Kordofan, Al-Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment (KACE), a pro-democracy NGO that also works to promote multiculturalism in Sudan, and the Cultural Forum for Literary Criticism, a network of Sudanese writers, all remain closed today.

Political opponents of the Government have been arrested and detained without charges or judicial review for prolonged periods of time by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (the NISS). Between 7 January and 14 February, seven political opposition leaders were arrested on their return from a meeting in Kampala, Uganda attended by Sudanese political opposition parties and armed opposition groups. No reasons for the arrests were given. Although one detainee was released on 21 January, six remained detained without access to lawyers or appropriate medical care until their release without charge on 1 April, following the announcement of a presidential amnesty for all political detainees in Sudan. Despite this Presidential announcement,

FIDH and ACJPS fear that many less high-profile political detainees remain in detention without any charges levied against them, and without access to lawyers or their families. For example, 31 women have been detained in El Obeid prison, North Kordofan state, since November 2012 without charge and without access to lawyers or their families. The women, who are from the Nuba ethnic group of South Kordofan, are thought to have been detained on account of their presumed political affiliation with the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).

Madame Chair,

Popular peaceful protests which took place throughout Sudan in June-August 2012 concerning the economic and political climate in the country were met by the Sudanese authorities with excessive use of force and mass arbitrary arrests. Testimonies from those released point to the systematic use of torture and ill-treatment to intimidate activists and deter the organisation of further protests. Human rights defenders and journalists monitoring and reporting on the protests were also targeted. Some detainees reported being forced to provide their email, Facebook and Skype passwords. Subsequent meetings and strikes led by students at the University of Port Sudan on 30 September 2012, Bakht al Rida University on 1 October and Al Jazeera University on 5 December were violently dispersed by police and security services, leading to the deaths of four students and injuring many more.

At a time of significant turmoil in the country, journalists and independent publishers have been under attack. Pre- and post-print censorship by the National Intelligence and Security Services has been widely used. Post-print censorship in the form of confiscation of printed materials is increasingly being used to undermine the economic viability of independent publishers. On 7 October 2012 the NISS confiscated two thousand books written by Sudanese author Abdal Aziz Baraka Sakin from the 8th International Book Fair held in Khartoum, whose work focuses on diversity in Sudanese life and culture. On 26 November the NISS prevented Alwifag, Akhir Laza, and Almshhad Alaan newspapers from distributing printed copies of their newspapers without any reason; on 27 December 2012 the NISS prevented Algrar newspaper from distributing printed copies of its newspaper; and on 22 January 2013, the NISS confiscated 14,000 printed copies of Al Sudani from its printing house. Online access to popular electronic newspapers and websites administered outside Sudan, including Sudanese Online, Hurriyat and Al Raqouba, is often difficult from inside Sudan, leading to concern that the authorities are blocking certain websites.

Madame Chair,

This sharp deterioration in the space for free speech in Sudan has taken place at a time when Sudan is drafting a new permanent constitution and preparing for its first national elections, scheduled for 2015, since the secession of South Sudan.

To conclude, FIDH and ACJPS recommends that the Commission calls on Sudan to uphold the rights of Sudanese people to peacefully and freely express their views and take part in decisions affecting the future of the country.

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