The authorities in Sudan arrested seven journalists as they covered economic protests there this week, including reporters for Reuters and Agence France-Presse, with no word on charges or when they might be released.
Press advocates said Friday that the arrests, carried out by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service, reflected an increasingly repressive censorship in the vast African nation, where news media independence has long been under assault.
Security agents in the country have frequently confiscated newspapers in recent years and held journalists when their reporting displeased the government of the longtime president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The journalists are often released within hours, but not always.
The arrests this week were coupled with what press advocacy groups described as a government warning to Sudan newspapers to avoid reporting on the protests, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday in the capital, Khartoum. Thousands marched peacefully to object to Sudan’s rapidly rising prices.
Radio Dabanga, an independent Sudanese news agency that operates from the Netherlands, posted photographs and videos of the protesters in Khartoum. It said the police used batons and tear gas to foil them, arresting at least 40 people.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a press advocacy organization based in New York, criticized Sudan authorities in a statement, saying they should “cease harassing and arresting journalists and confiscating newspapers, and should allow journalists to report on matters of public interest without fear of reprisal.”
The committee said the Reuters reporter, identified as Khalid Abdelaziz; the Agence France-Presse reporter, Abdelmunim Abudris; and Ahawky Abdelazim, an editor of a Sudanese newspaper, were arrested on Wednesday. It said four others, arrested Tuesday, included a freelance journalist, Amal Habani, and three reporters, Magdi al-Ajib, Rishan Oushi and Imtenan Al-Radi, who worked for privately owned local newspapers.
For Reuters, one of the world’s largest news agencies, Sudan was the second country in the past month in which its journalists had been seized by the government for doing their jobs. Two Reuters reporters were arrested in December in Myanmar while reporting on the persecution of that country’s Rohingya minority.
Officials at Reuters and Agence France-Presse said Friday that the Sudanese government had not been forthcoming on why the journalists were arrested or what laws, if any, they may have violated.
Reuters said in an emailed statement that “we are actively seeking additional information about the situation.” In its news story on the arrests, Reuters did not identify Mr. Abdelaziz by name and described him as a stringer, a term that refers to a local journalist who works for a news organization that is based elsewhere.
The Agence France-Presse bureau chief in Khartoum, Jay Deshmukh, said in an email that Sudanese authorities had informed the agency that the journalists were in a detention center in Khartoum run by the National Intelligence and Security Service.
“We have no information as to when they might be released,” he said.
The detentions of the journalists got the attention of the Trump administration, which has been slowly moving to improve relations with Sudan but has expressed concern about its history of rights abuses. Sudan is still listed on the State Department’s state sponsor of terrorism blacklist, where it has been since 1993.
“We condemn the harassment, arbitrary detention, and attacks on journalists in Sudan who are doing their jobs and exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression,” Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We remain deeply concerned about freedom of expression, including for members of the media, the closing of political space for all Sudanese, and Sudan’s poor overall human rights record.”
Sudan government representatives in Khartoum did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the detentions. Mekki Elmograbi, the press attaché at Sudan’s embassy in Washington, said he had no information about the arrests.
Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a phone interview that Sudan’s press repression had grown increasingly harsh.
He attributed the change partly to examples set by other authoritarian leaders, including Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whose government has harassed and intimidated many journalists to stifle dissident voices.
“They look at Egypt and other countries in the neighborhood, and they have passed aggressive measures and gotten away with it,” Mr. Mansour said. “They suppress popular dissent and go after anyone who tries to present it.”
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