Sudan protests: How the country became a 'dark spot' for media

Sudanese protesters in Khartoum. Media freedom has come into sharper focus given the public vitriol aimed at the government. (Reuters)
Sudanese protesters in Khartoum. Media freedom has come into sharper focus given the public vitriol aimed at the government. (Reuters)

Two months ago mass anti-government demonstrations in Sudan led to a mostly peaceful political transition.

But on Monday, soldiers opened fire on protesters, killing at least 100.

The military regime that now rules Sudan promised new media freedoms and a space to tell the stories of the revolution. But it has now declared a blackout on communications, including blocking social media access, disrupting phone traffic and severely restricting the spread of information.

Over the past few weeks, many foreign journalists have had their licences revoked and their offices raided, meaning stories of alleged mass murder and rape at the hands of the security services don't make it beyond Sudan's borders.

Journalist Isma'il Kushkush says he was not surprised when he heard Al Jazeera journalists were among those who had their licences withdrawn.

"The two top heads of the military council, Burhan and Hemeti, paid the visit to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. That's when Al Jazeera's licence was withdrawn," he says. "And there is widespread belief in Sudan that these governments are interfering to prevent the establishment of a full democracy in the country."

Eric Reeves, a senior fellow at Harvard University, says it became clear two or three weeks ago that the Transitional Military Council (TMC) was not negotiating in good faith. The council, which represents Sudan’s military authority, decided on Tuesday to cancel all agreements with the main opposition coalition and is planning to hold elections within nine months, according to the body's head, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

"Tensions began to rise," Reeves says. "The two-month-old sit-in had become the symbol of resistance and the uprising. And it became very clear last week that the military council was not going to permit this any longer."

The anti-government protests garnered hope from activists that Sudan could have a political transformation. Writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied explains that many believed the stepping down of Omar al-Bashir in mid-April would have paved the way for a period of negotiation and transition.

"I think a lot of people around the world are looking at Sudan as an example of 'okay maybe we've learned from the Arab Spring ... maybe this won't be Egypt or Libya or Syria, maybe this will be a little bit different'," she says.

According to Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist, Sudan has always been a "dark spot" for media.

"I think the military council is basically a more powerful extension of the old regime - a biased extension of the old regime," he says. "They need to clamp down on news because they only want their version of the news." 

Contributors 

Yassmin Abdel-Magied - writer and broadcaster

Isma'il Kushkush - journalist

Eric Reeves - senior fellow, Harvard University

Khalid Albaih - Sudanese political cartoonist

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