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Cablegate: Sudan's "Freedom Bells" Muffled by Gos On All Fronts

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OO RUEHGI RUEHMA RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #1591/01 3030812
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 290812Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2188
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE
RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 001591

DEPT FOR AF A/S FRAZER, SE WILLIAMSON, AF/SPG, DRL
NSC FOR PITTMAN AND HUDSON
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC PGOV PREL KPKO SOCI AU UNSC SU
SUBJECT: SUDAN'S "FREEDOM BELLS" MUFFLED BY GOS ON ALL FRONTS

REF: A) Khartoum 0546

1. (SBU) Summary: Sudanese authorities are limiting the reach of
Khartoum's newest Arabic-language daily, the independent but
SPLM-leaning Ajras al-Hurriya ("Freedom Bells"), through a daily
regimen of heavy censorship, excessive taxation and limited
distribution. The paper's Nyala correspondent, Nurredine Braima,
was jailed for two weeks in October after he translated for a
visiting Qatari envoy what the government claimed were
"controversial" remarks by an Internally Displaced Person (IDP). An
analysis of articles not published shows censors are sensitive to
articles that do not toe the official line on subjects as
wide-ranging as Darfur, education policy and even enforcement of
traffic rules. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Deng Loc, Editor-in-Chief of Ajras al-Hurriya, told Poloff
on October 27 that in recent months Sudanese authorities have
doubled the pressure they exert on the paper, which is sympathetic
towards the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. Censors from the
National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) now excise up to
a dozen articles nightly before the sixteen-page newspaper goes to
press, and Loc's daily editorial column has not printed for the last
nine days. Additionally, GOS taxation authorities are currently
taxing the paper at a forty- percent rate, not the fifteen to
eighteen-percent standard tax rate for newspapers. While Ajras
al-Hurriya now prints at a privately-owned printing press, Loc
suspects that the government-owned newspaper distribution service
limits the paper's distribution to few outlets in the capital area.
"I cannot even buy our newspaper in this neighborhood," he said,
gesturing out the window of his cramped office in the
centrally-located Khartoum 2 residential district.

3. (SBU) On October 11, NISS detained Freedom Bells' Nyala
correspondent, Nurredine Braima, for two weeks on the spurious
grounds that he had caused a commotion in a meeting room during an
official visit. Instead, Loc said Braima was arrested after
offering his translation services to a Qatari envoy visiting Nyala.
During a meeting, when an elderly IDP who spoke no Arabic approached
the envoy, Braima translated her statement from Fur into Arabic.
Displeased by what Braima had translated, authorities arrested him,
and Loc suspects that authorities released Braima October 26 as a
goodwill gesture during an unrelated visit to Nyala by Senior
Presidential Advisor Nafie Ali Nafie.

4. (SBU) Loc provided Poloff with numerous articles NISS censors had
pulled the night before the October 22 edition was to go to press.
Following closely on the heels of the Sudan Peoples' Initiative
(SPI), articles critical of the government's stance on Darfur
dominated that day's edition, including one suggestively titled
"After 37 Days of Initiative, the Result is Zero." Other articles
also subject to censorship took a less confrontational approach:
"New Vision to Resolve Darfur Conflict," by Adam Abaker Ali, urged
the SPI to become more inclusive of Darfur Peace Agreement
non-signatories and civil society stakeholders; and "Commentary on
the Sudan Peoples' Initiative," by Begist Yousif Badri, called for
security arrangements in Darfur and a timetable to disarm the
janjaweed.

5. (SBU) Other censored articles from that day covered more
domestic, even mundane, subjects that Loc insisted had received
coverage in other Khartoum newspapers. "Higher Education: Climbing
to the Cliff" discussed the problems of educational reforms dating
from the time of the National Islamic Front, and "By Logic,
Illusion" criticized Khartoum traffic police regulations for
renewing drivers' licenses. Also subjected to censorship was an
article entitled "Farm Owners in El Geraif District Hand Urgent Memo
to the Legislative Assembly."

6. (SBU) Not afraid to broach controversial subjects to test the
censors' limits, Loc strongly criticized the Sudan People's
Initiative in a previous editorial column. In another, he argued
that the Sudan People's Liberation Army had a right to keep
weaponry, which it allegedly had purchased, from a Ukrainian vessel
hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The reasons why
other, more innocuous articles were pulled remain a mystery,
however, as Loc described a censorship regime that had reached what
he described as a new level of absurdity: "They sometimes even take
my articles and put them into other newspapers," he said with an
exasperated smile.

7. (SBU) Comment: In a media market saturated with outlandish
accusations and inaccurate reporting, Ajras al-Hurriya consistently
publishes forward-thinking articles from a balanced perspective.
Post supported the paper in the past through a USAID/OTI start-up
grant. The newspaper was given a lengthy interview with Charge

KHARTOUM 00001591 002 OF 002


d'Affaires Fernandez in its inaugural issue. The Embassy also
issued a press statement criticizing the Government of Sudan's
shutting down the paper in April (the statement was itself censored
in the local media). Post will remain in contact with the editors
of Freedom Bells to monitor censorship and other harassment of the
daily and its staff. End Comment.

FERNANDEZ

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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