For weeks, thousands of Sudanese have taken to the streets, protesting austerity policies enacted by President Omar al-Bashir and his regime, which has been in power since 1989. Journalists covering the story have faced challenges, including detention and—for foreign correspondents—deportation. In June, Sudanese security services arrested Bloomberg reporter Salma El Wardany along with Prominent Sudanese blogger Maha El Sanousi, who was briefly detained. El Wardany found herself deported back to Egypt. Sudanese authorities also arrested Agence France-Presse reporter Simon Martelli, holding him for more than 12 hours without charges. Additionally, citizen journalist and activist Usamah Mohammed Ali (@simsimt), who made this stirring video about why he is joining the protest movement, is now spending his third week in detention, after having been arrested by the authorities while attending an anti-austerity protest. He has recently been moved to Kober prison, where he cannot receive visitors, and where he continues to be held with no charges made against him.
In addition to detaining and deporting journalists and bloggers, the Sudanese government has censored news sites that have reported on the ongoing protests. Last week, EFF first saw reports that Sudanese ISPs had begun to block Sudanese Online, Hurriyat Sudan, and Al Rakoba, but was not able to independently confirm the reports. Since then, Hurriyat Sudan has confirmed [Press release in Arabic] that their site has been blocked since June 25.
Hurriyat’s Editor in Chief Elhag Warrag says government efforts to block his news website are part of “a systematic attempt by the Sudanese regime to stop news about anti-government demonstrations reaching the Sudanese people and the world at large.” He went on to encourage Sudanese users to access his paper’s news coverage by visiting its Facebook page or by using a proxy to circumvent Internet censorship (EFF recommends Tor).
Internet penetration in Sudan is low—according to ITU’s 2009 report approximately 10% of the population has access to the Internet and about 15% use mobile phones—but local news websites and Twitter accounts run by Sudanese activists have been vital to disseminating information about the protest movement. Article 39 of the 2005 interim national constitution states:
Every citizen shall have an unrestricted right to the freedom of expression, reception and dissemination of information, publication, and access to the press without prejudice to order, safety or public morals as determined by law." The same article also states that the "state shall guarantee the freedom of the press and other media as shall be regulated by law in a democratic society.
Even so, the al-Bashir regime has engaged in blocking and filtering of pornography, tools that enable anonymous surfing or censorship circumvention, and now news sites reporting on sensitive political issues. EFF condemns these escalating attacks on freedom of expression in Sudan and will continue to monitor the situation carefully.