US protests against press closures

The US embassy in Khartoum on Wednesday protested against the suspension of two newspapers by the Sudanese government, despite Khartoum's pledge to lift restrictions on press freedom.

The English language ‘Khartoum Monitor’ has been closed since 24 November and the Arabic 'Al-Ayam' since 17 November.

“The government’s action against the newspapers – convicted of no wrongdoing and charged under dubious circumstances – inflicts grave financial losses on the newspapers and puts into question the commitment of the government to press freedom,” said a US embassy statement.

“The US embassy also wishes to reiterate that Sudan’s human rights performance will be a chief factor – along with the peace process – in determining the pace of hoped-for improvement in our bilateral relations,” it warned.

However, the Sudanese government says the papers published "controversial issues that did not promote an atmosphere of peace and concord", 'Al-Ra'y al-Amm' newspaper said.

Information Minister Al Zhawi Ibrahim Malik specified that 'Al-Ayam' had published “false information" about the strife-torn Darfur region.

“Those with their own agendas are trying to give a very sad view of what is happening in Darfur,” he told IRIN. “The propaganda in the west is trying to exaggerate what is happening [there].”

Editor of the 'Khartoum Monitor', Alfred Taban, said his newspaper had been closed seven times in the last two years for different reasons.

The government was now prosecuting the newspaper for being “against peace”, causing “racial disharmony” and “disrespecting the judiciary” as a result of four letters to the editor that it published, he told IRIN.

He said the closures were detrimental to the Sudanese peace process. “If a peace agreement is signed without the knowledge and support of southerners, it will not hold,” he stated.