By Justin Ambago Ramba, MD
July 9, 2010 (SSNA) — The recent crackdown on newspapers in the Sudan came as no surprise to those who maintain good track on the records of the dominant Islamist National Congress Party (NCP) of President Al Bashir. Since the dawn of the military coup that brought these Islamists to power in the Sudan in June 1989, the state has always maintained a tight lid on the media out-lets and whatever changes that were allowed can be traced back to specific events with the intention of misleading the international community’s perception of the realities on the ground.
Why has Khartoum fallen off with the three dailies, Al-Intibaha, Al-Tayyar and Al-Ahdath, which are all deemed critical in one way or another of the South Sudan authorities? How much truth is there in the claim from the intelligence and security services in its decision to reinstate censorship by saying it "regretted the lack of commitment of several political dailies in their treatment of national issues"
Although the latest censorship is expected to focus on the issue of the country’s unity or separation and the security of South Sudan, as claimed by the authorities, however according to information the available in the media, the Al-Intibaha daily tabloid will be closed "for an undetermined period", as it was one of the few newspapers openly advocating for separation between the north and the South.
In the first instance no wonder the decision might look as if it is aimed at "reducing the negative role of newspapers wanting to strengthen separatist tendencies in the north and south, in opposition to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which extols unity, but the unbeatable reality is that this very tabloid papers have been operational for the last five years of the agreement with a complete blessing of president Al Bashir himself. So why now?"
Al – Intibah was operational even before President Omar al-Bashir announced the lifting of press censorship in September last year. This means that this particular paper remained immune to government censorship throughout a period in which newspapers were screened by censored every night and sensitive articles were dropped before publication.
President Al Bashir himself has been for several occasions on record for criticizing the SPLM and the performance of the GoSS. Many sensitive issues contained in the CPA, like the north-south borders kept dragging on and on for years and years. And the unhidden sinister motives of the north can be smelt in every move they take, yet today they are turning around to say that they do not want anything negative published in connection with the south Sudan government or the SPLM (the former southern rebels).
It is true that the CPA dictates on the two partners to work together to achieve a voluntary unity in the Sudan. However it is a fact that there was and still is a strong support for secession amongst the southern population. It was for this fact that the negotiators came up with the provision stating clearly that whatever happens in the six years interim period, the unity of the country can only be re-affirmed through free, fair and credible plebiscite, whose result will be binding to all.
Whether there exist any separatist tendencies in the north or the south is something that doesn’t necessary require a crazy tabloid like Al-Intibaha to tell us. Al Tayeb Mustafa, the First Uncle of the Republic of Sudan, is in all ways entitled to his opinion in advocating the secession of the north from the rest of the Sudan. Citizens from the other regions of the Sudan, who think that the present day map of the Sudan is not right, are sincerely entitled to their democratic rights and should be free to express their views within the domain of civility.
As for the Al-Intibaha newspaper’s crew, it is undeniable that they are dominated by supremacist tendencies. They can become dangerous in that they can easily turn into prophets of hate. And in event of south Sudan’s secession, such groups may not hesitate to campaigns for ethnic cleansing towards people of south Sudanese descends who still reside in the north. I for one would prefer to keep track of what such groups do and their newspapers may present the only window into their inner world. Otherwise pushing them underground the way the government has chosen to do, leave our people without any clues as what to expect next.
According to the Head of the Sudanese Journalists’ General Union (SJGU), Mohei Eddin Titawi, there exists a mandate that grants the National Security Organs the right to stop any newspaper and impose a pre-publication censorship before it exceeds the general guidelines of the country. I hope that such bans are only meant to affect the newspapers, as it couldn’t in any way amount to any freedom or fairness if the government intends to keep to itself the right to campaign for the so-called Unity, while denying those who otherwise hold different views from equally mounting open campaigns.
No way can anybody pull back from the fact that the unity of the Sudan has been attractive to the people of the south. This was both a confession and a recognition by the two Naivasha partners as well as those who equally committed themselves to the CPA – the US administration, IGAD, AU, the Arab League, the European Union and the UN). The way forward was to make the choice of unity an attractive option for the southerners when they finally come to vote in the referendum; however it is regrettable that the NIF/NCP intends to achieve this huge task in the last moment by using sugar coated campaigns through their heavily sponsored media.