With the general elections fast approaching in Sudan, the government’s clampdown on dissenting voices threatens the independence and freedom of action of civil society organizations, human rights defenders, students, the media and members of the political opposition, Amnesty International said in a briefing.
The clampdown has been exacerbated by recent constitutional amendments giving sweeping powers to the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
“As Sudan enters elections, the NISS’s control of what the media should say and what civil society can comment or act on is deeply disturbing,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa.
“Human rights violations by NISS, now at unprecedented levels, only serve to quell dissent and criticism of the National Congress Party (NCP) government in the run up to April’s general elections,” said Michelle Kagari.
Since January 2015, at least 16 newspapers have had editions of their publications confiscated, on 42 different occasions, by the NISS. 21 journalists have been interrogated by the police and the NISS. Three leading civil society organizations have been shut down, with at least five others under imminent threat of closure.
On February 16, NISS agents confiscated all editions of 14 newspapers from the printers, without any lawful justification.
Al Midan newspaper, published three times a week and affiliated to the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), has had its editions confiscated at least 20 times since 1 January. Madeeha Abdallah, editor of Al Midan, is currently facing charges under the 1991 Penal Code Act. She faces the death penalty if convicted.
Shadia (not her real name), a journalist based in Khartoum spoke to Amnesty International about the challenges of practising journalism in Sudan.
“Journalists in Sudan have been punished three times: firstly via the security law, secondly through the press and publications law, and thirdly through criminal law,” she said.
Sudanese officials defended the confiscation of newspapers by the NISS, to the press, on grounds of national security.
The NISS have intensified their crackdown on civil society this year. At least a dozen civil society groups believe that their activities are closely monitored by NISS agents. They received threats, intimidation and harassment from both the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) and the NISS. The HAC is a body established by the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work (Organization) Act with the mandate of regulating voluntary and humanitarian organizations.
Four civil society organizations have been shut down or had their offices raided by NISS agents. In January 2015, NISS shut down three civil society organizations on the basis that they were violating their registration licences.
Al Sadiq Hassan, from the Darfur Bar Association, told Amnesty International: “This is the worst time for civil society in Sudan; they are facing a systematic attack from the regime on their freedom of expression and assembly. After the recent constitutional amendments, the level of harassment has increased.”
“The current patterns of violations highlight that repression is becoming entrenched in Sudan. It is high time that the African Union, the Arab League, the UN and key member states stepped up pressure on Sudan to respect its international and regional human rights obligations and commitments,”said Michelle Kagari.
Amnesty International calls upon the Government of Sudan to abide by the bill of rights guaranteed in its constitution and its international and regional commitments to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government should also promptly investigate all allegations of intimidation and harassment of members of the civil society and political opposition and bring to justice those suspected to be responsible.