Sudan journalists oppose new law curbing media freedom

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Dozens of Sudanese journalists on Wednesday demonstrated in Khartoum against a proposed new press law that aims to tighten restrictions on media freedom in the African country.

“United Against the New Law” and “Free Press or No Press,” read banners held up by demonstrators who say the bill empowers Sudan’s press council to ban any journalist for an indefinite period if his writings oppose government policies.

The cabinet led by Prime Minister Bakri Hassan Saleh is examining the draft, which if passed would go to parliament for a final approval.

“The new law threatens the freedom of the press, and so we outright reject it,” said Sadeq al-Rizeigat, head of the Sudan Journalists’ Syndicate.

The new legislation would also allow the press council to ban a newspaper from publishing for 15 days without any court order, he said.

Sudan’s existing press law requires the council to file for a court order if it wants to ban a newspaper for more than three days.

The proposed law is a “punishment” for journalists, who already operate in a restrictive environment, said prominent columnist Faisal Saleh.

“The press council has been given the right to cancel licenses of journalists and newspapers... It shows that the government is angry with the media.”

The National Council for Press and Publications (NCPP), the regulatory body supervised by President Omar al-Bashir himself, defended the draft law.

“We believe that the proposed law actually enhances press freedom,” said Abdelazim Awad, its secretary general.

“We believe that with freedom of expression also comes a sense of responsibility, and the new law aims to protect the people.”

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