|[Source: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images]|
The hunger strike is in direct response to the December 2015 decision of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) to suspend newspaper Al-Tayyar without explanation, but its intent extends far beyond reinstituting the newspaper.
“We want to draw attention to the difficulties faced by journalists and the restrictions on the freedom of press in the country in general,” acknowledged Khalid Fathi, Al-Tayyar’s managing editor.
Freedom is far from free in Sudan, a country categorized as the “Worst of the Worst” in terms of political rights and civil liberties according to independent watchdog Freedom House. The government routinely utilizes the 2009 Press and Publication Act to confiscate or temporarily shut down newspapers in order to prevent unwanted information from being published as well as the misnomered January 2015 Freedom of Access to Information Law to limit access to information of consequence for journalists and citizens alike. Journalists themselves frequently face harassment, physical attacks and even arrest.
In Sudan, surveillance is a fact of life. The National Telecommunications Corporation (NTC) regularly monitors internet activity and email and blocks websites in violation of “public morality” or for being “blasphemous”; the NISS is known to access the social media accounts of activists; and the government is thought to have phone-tapping, location tracking and even conversation eavesdropping capabilities.
This is the reality that the Al-Tayyar hunger strikers want to change.
Although no official reason has been given for the newspaper shutdown, it was preceded by a promise from President Omer Hassan al-Bashir to take “decisive measures” against Sudanese press for critical reports of Finance Minister Bader El Deen Mahmoud. Also prior to the shutdown, editor-in-chief Osman Marghani was arrested for anti-governmental reporting and “inciting an Arab spring.” Marghani, along with editor-in-chief Ahmed Yousef El Tay of Al-Saiha, now faces the death penalty.
In the words of Marghani, “The best outcome we anticipate from this [strike] is that the culture of protest, peaceful protest that is, spreads among Sudanese people.”
30 Sudanese journalists are currently chained together, with little more than a belief in a cause, the encouragement of their supporters and water to sustain them. Let’s hope this one act leads Sudan towards the Arab spring it has been seeking, that it is a shift away from violence and the “Worst of the Worst” and towards a country free from censorship, surveillance and unwarranted arrests.
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