Watchdog: Journalist flees Sudan ‘fearing for his life’

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A reporter for the international news service Bloomberg has fled Sudan afraid for his safety after being threatened, assaulted and arbitrarily detained, a watchdog says.

“Michael Gunn told CPJ that he fled the country on July 2 fearing for his life,” said a statement from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

The incident comes about a year after Sudan deported Bloomberg correspondent Salma El Wardany, an Egyptian. She was detained while trying to cover anti-government protests.

Gunn, 35, a British national, declined comment when reached by AFP on Thursday.

But Bloomberg spokesman Ty Trippet said in a statement: “When a reporter is doing his job as he was and is attacked for no other reason, it’s cause for concern.”

Gunn told CPJ that plainclothes agents grabbed him while he covered a June 29 meeting of the opposition Umma Party.

“He said he was hit several times, his bag and pockets searched, and his shirt pulled over his head before he was thrown into the back of a truck with several Sudanese citizens,” CPJ said in a statement late Wednesday.

Gunn reported to CPJ that he was taken away, blindfolded and interrogated for three hours about what he was doing in Sudan.

“He said he was slapped several times during the interrogation and that he was ordered to unlock his smartphone. Gunn said that after the interrogation was over, he was put back in a truck and released on a nearby street,” CPJ said.

Gunn told the watchdog that he was accredited by the Sudanese government and had been reporting in the country since November.

Neither Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman nor Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Abubakr Al-Siddiq were immediately able to comment when reached by AFP on Thursday.

The state minister of information and culture, Mustafa Tirab, told AFP in a May interview that the government “will do our level best to provide freedom of expression and freedom of speech for all those who are inside Sudan”.

Veteran journalist and free speech advocate Faisal Mohammed Salih said the incident involving Gunn coincides with a worsening environment for the country's news writers.

“I think they are going for more pressure generally,” he said of the government which “is feeling weak”.

On Wednesday agents of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) ordered the Al-Youm Al-Taly daily newspaper to stop publishing but gave no reason, its owner-editor said.

Four newspapers are now banned in Sudan, which has around 20 dailies.

Press freedom advocates say newspapers are also subject to seizure by the security service after they have been printed.

Some journalists have been banned from writing and on Wednesday the information minister told editors “that newspapers are exaggerating the situation” about crime and corruption in the country, Salih said.

The 24-year regime of President Omar al-Bashir, which calls itself Islamist, is battling economic difficulties, armed rebellions in parts of the country, and internal dissension.

Gunn was detained at a rally attended by thousands of people in an unusual show of force by Umma leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, who led the coalition government toppled by Bashir's 1989 coup.

Mahdi called for the peaceful toppling of Bashir's regime.

Sudan ranks near the bottom, at 170 out of 179, in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).