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Cablegate: Journalists Organize Censorship Protest, Khartoum Hammers

VZCZCXRO2750
OO RUEHGI RUEHMA RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #1676 3221303
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 171303Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2336
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE
RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS KHARTOUM 001676

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

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC PGOV PREL KPAO KPKO SOCI AU UNSC SU
SUBJECT: JOURNALISTS ORGANIZE CENSORSHIP PROTEST, KHARTOUM HAMMERS
DOWN

1. SUMMARY: On November 17, Sudanese authorities arrested more than
60 protesters (many of them local journalists) outside parliament in
Khartoum. The demonstrators were rallying against the systematic
censorship that forces papers to consult with government security
personnel on the content of their newspapers on a nightly basis. In
addition, the protesters were denouncing the arrest of Salah Bab
Allah, a journalist who published a report last week about the
outbreak of hemorrhagic fever in Kordofan. END SUMMARY.

2. Intentionally choosing the same day that parliament approved the
electoral commission, journalists from a wide range of newspapers
rallied to protest the nightly censorship that infringes upon press
freedom in Khartoum. In addition, the group was denouncing the
arrest of Salah Bab Allah, a journalist from the Islamist
"Al-Intibaha" newspaper who published a report last week about the
outbreak of hemorrhagic fever in Kordofan. Holding banners
proclaiming "Give Us Our Rights," the group attempted to deliver a
petition to the sitting parliament. Instead, they were rounded up
by police with long sticks, herded into caged trucks, and hauled
off. As of mid-day, on November 17, 63 journalists (24 women, 39
men) from different newspapers were in the process of having cases
opened against them in Omdurman court.

3. According to Deng Goc and Amel Habbani of "Ajras al-Hurriya," a
newspaper that has been instrumental in speaking out against
censorship over the last several months, the protesting group was
representative of an extremely wide array of Khartoum-based
newspapers from across the ideological spectrum. Included amongst
the protesters were journalists from "Al-Intibaha," a normally very
pro-GoS newspaper, albeit with a radical Islamist twist (it often
criticizes the regime for being too pro-Western) and their
ideological rivals at the pro-SPLM, secular "Ajras al-Hurriya".
Emboffs confirmed that Salah Bab Allah, the "Al-Intibaha" reporter
who was arrested last week, has since been released and is currently
with his family in Kassala. In a phone conversation, the reporter
said he was surprised by his detention, especially since "the
censors had approved the article the night before."

4. COMMENT: The noose of censorship around the necks of newspapers
in Khartoum has been tightening since the beginning of 2008 and
worsened after the JEM attack on Omdurman in May. Fortunately, the
resolve and courage of Sudan's press corps has also increased.
Beginning with the joint press conference "Ajras al-Hurriya" held
with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the Popular Congress
Party, and the Sudanese Communist Party in June - and continuing
with several attention-getting newspaper shut-downs from a number of
publications - an effective media campaign has significantly raised
the public's awareness of censorship by Sudanese authorities.
However, whether the media will be successful in gaining true
freedom of the press, or instead be eventually squelched or co-opted
by Khartoum's iron fist, remains to be seen. As this regime relies
heavily on media manipulation and censorship to craft its public
image and prevent certain information from entering the public
domain, it is unlikely that the press will see any improvement in
the level of censorship anytime soon. The arrest of the Al-Intibaha
reporter is a perfect example, as the government was likely
concerned that the information about hemorrhagic fever, which could
potentially infect one million-plus sheep from Kordofan, might reach
markets in the Gulf (particularly Saudi Arabia during the Hajj),
thus denying Sudan an important source of revenue at a time of
falling oil prices. Embassy plans to issue a statement criticizing
the arrests.

FERNANDEZ

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