EXCLUSIVE: Investigative journalist paints 'a depressing picture' of working in Sudan

Cape Town -  A Sudanese journalist, who was arrested and released during the recent high bread price protests has painted a "depressing picture" of the "tough conditions" that journalists are working under in that east African country.

In an interview with News24, investigative journalist Shawgi Abdel Azim Osman Yassin, said he was put in jail on charges of inciting the protests. 

Yassin, who works for a satellite business news channel, Sudania24, said that he was arrested on January 18 with several other journalists, among them, international correspondents working for Reuters news agency and the Agency France-Presse (AFP).

He said that at about 16:00 on January 18, members from the country’s notorious National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS) - a body operating under the guidance of the political authority and an arm of the ruling Party National Congress party - pulled off his car and "ordered me to go with them". 

"I was taken with others in a pickup truck and it was at 16:00. They took us to the offices of the National Security and Intelligence Service. They sat us on the ground, and our faces were against the wall. They shouted at us all the time," he said.

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Yassin said that while at the security agency’s offices, he was taken to an interrogation room and was asked for his personal details and to draw the map of his home as well as to why he was at the march.

"They sat me back on the floor and asked me for personal information, and asked me to draw a map showing them the place of my house and they asked why I was in the place of the protests. And thereafter, they charged me with inciting citizens to protest against the high prices," said Yassin. 

He said that at about 01:00 the next day they gave him a meal consisting of beans and a piece of bread. An hour later, he and the other journalists were taken to another office of NISS that was not far away. On arrival, the security agents took their photographs and blood samples.  

"They took personal pictures of each one of us, took blood samples, and filled out our personal details. All the time they insulted us, and they also beat students who had been arrested during protests, and shaved the hair for some of them. At 06:00 we were taken to a prison known as “Cooper” prison where we spent six days before we were released,” said he said.

'I did not see the prosecution court' 

According to reports at least fifteen journalists were detained while covering the bread price protests in Khartoum and Omdurman more than a week ago.

Some were, however, immediately released after being briefly detained.

During their detention, the journalists were not allowed contact with their families or employers.

The authorities provided no explanation for their detention and according to Yassin, they did not appear in court. 

"I did not see the prosecution or the court. The press works in very difficult circumstances in Sudan. Journalists are persecuted by the security authorities. They are imprisoned in cases related to the press. They are dismissed from work at the request of the security apparatus. Newspapers are confiscated if they do not carry out instructions and orders. They have to follow the system or risk being jailed," said Yassin.

Wide media freedom 

Global media rights groups as well as Washington condemned the detentions.

"The (Sudanese) authorities have a duty to guarantee the safety of journalists rather than target them," Reporters Without Border (RSF) said in a statement.

Sudan is ranked in the bottom ten of RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index – 174th out of 180 countries.

The US state department spokesperson Heather Nauert said: "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."

Sudan expressed its "regret" at these condemnations, insisting that the country enjoyed freedom of press.

"Sudan enjoys wide media freedom with more than 20 political journals published daily that express various views independently," the foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

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