Geneva – The Sudanese transitional government's escalation of restrictive practices against journalists and activists in the country, by using amendments to the Law on Combatting Cybercrimes, warns of an intention to legitimize targeting journalists and expand the policy of muzzling mouths and opinions, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said on Tuesday in a statement.
The Sudanese government has exploited the amendments introduced in July to the Law on Combatting Cybercrimes of 2018 to impose more severe penalties (prison sentences) for many electronic practices.
During the past months, especially after the law was amended, a number of Sudanese journalists and activists have been persecuted and threatened over publications they posted on social media criticizing the authorities. Such persecution escalated after the Sudanese army appointed a special commissioner last July to monitor what it called “insulting the military” through social media. The commissioner is in charge of filing lawsuits against activists and journalists based on several laws, most notably the amended Law on Combatting Cybercrimes.
Euro-Med Monitor received information that four Sudanese journalists had been threatened with imprisonment for their journalistic activities: journalist Lana Awad from North Darfur, who was subjected to a direct threat from the military ruler for criticizing the military; journalist Mubarak Jumah Musa from Darfur, who was arrested and threatened by the Rapid Support Forces for criticizing it; journalist Aida Abdel Qader, who was summoned by the Military Intelligence; and journalist Adel Keller, who was threatened on-air while interviewing a security adviser during a TV program. A case was opened under his name at the court right after the interview.
Article 24 of the amended law raised the maximum penalty of imprisonment from one to four years, or flogging, or both, if a citizen publishes “false news or reports via the Internet, communications, or any information means or applications, threatening public peace or tranquility, or insulting the prestige of the state”. Vaguely worded, the text enables the authorities to impose broad restrictions on the work of journalists and activists, the freedom of expression, and electronic publishing in general.
In addition, Article 21 of the amended law allows the authorities to arbitrarily apply penalties against citizens based on vaguely worded articles. Under this article, anyone who publishes ideas, programs, sayings, or acts “contrary to public order and morals” via the Internet or any other means will be punished with imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years or flogging or both.
In her testimony to Euro-Med Monitor, Dorra Qambo, Sudanese journalist, said: “I was arrested for a short time by the intelligence service during public protests. After I was released, I wrote a Facebook post about what I experienced in detention, narrating that I met girls who were threatened with rape. Shortly after, while I was at the office of a news channel, an officer met me and told me that lawsuits over the rape cases allegations during the crackdown on the sit-in were issued because of my post. He threatened me by saying: ‘You have to face the consequences in the future’”.
The threats journalists receive take various forms, one of which is by opening reports of cybercrimes against them, which will lead to taking them to court eventually. Explicit threats on social media through the pages of prominent leaders in the army is another way of telling journalists to stop their reporting of a particular case, if they want to be safe. A third way is sending the same threats to journalists through their relatives.
“The amendment of the Combatting Cybercrimes Law did not take into account the basic rights and freedoms. It represents a major setback to the freedom of opinion and expression in Sudan,” said Tareq Abdelraziq, Euro-Med Monitor’s legal advisor. “It is worth mentioning that the military authorities have not stopped prosecuting citizens and journalists for expressing their opinions regarding the crises the state is witnessing”.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights should exert pressure on the Sudanese authorities to respect the basic rights and freedoms of its citizens and stop infringements that violate the basic principles of democratic transition that the Sudanese aspire to after the widespread protests that ousted former President Omar al-Bashir and his regime in April 2019.
The Sudanese transitional government should:
- Stop prosecuting activists and journalists for expressing their opinions and views;
- Review the amendments to the Law on Combatting Cybercrimes as they violate basic rights guaranteed by international laws;
- Ensure that the freedom of opinion and expression is protected;
- Put an end to restrictions over expressing opinions on social media and the Internet.