Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sudan's Intelligence Agency Plays Havoc Under the Radar



In the posting on August 13, this blog referred to squabbles between powerful agencies within Iran's ruling establishment and how they appear to have influenced the country’s newly-elected president, Hassan Rouhani, to abandon an important role for reformists in his cabinet.

While there are moderates in the cabinet, its composition is seen more as a delicate balance of forces for what Rouhani believes is the task ahead – retrieving Iran from the biggest two, interrelated, challenges it is facing – developing nuclear weapons and the devastating effects of international sanctions. An important step towards this goal was to counterbalance the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guardian Corps (IRGC) by pruning its numbers in the cabinet and increasing the number of representatives of the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS).

According to Ali Alfoneh of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies the “relatively strong MOIS presence […] is unprecedented.” One of the three members of MOIS in Rouhani’s cabinet of course is the dreaded Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi nominated for the post of the minister of justice.

While the appointment of Pour-Mohammadi is not the first instance of intelligence agencies playing a decisive role in shaping the role of Iran’s media, it might be interesting to look at another country which has as notorious a record of stifling media freedom through its intelligence agency – Sudan. Interestingly, Iran (174th) and Sudan (170th) are among the worst 10 in RSF’s 179-country Press Freedom Index.  

In a statement on April 5, RSF said that Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) had “ordered Al Nour Mohamed Al Nour’s suspension as editor-in-chief of the independent Arabic-language daily Al Sahafa.” RSF said that Al Sahafa had promptly acceded to the order and removed Al Nour’s name from the publication’s masthead. The RSF statement said that AFP had quoted Al Nour saying, “[h]is removal may have been linked to disagreements about the censorship imposed by the security services.”

RSF also drew attention to NISS summoning for questioning Almosalami Alkabbakhi, Al Jazeera’s Khartoum correspondent. The agency accused him of reporting false information and unbalanced reporting. Alkabbakhi was questioned for nine hours on April 3 and 4 and ordered to report for further questioning, RSF said.

One of the most horrifying cases of NISS’s role in suppressing freedom of the media is the kidnapping and torture of Somaia Ibrahim Ismail, also known as ‘Hundosa,’ on October 29 last year. RSF said she was tortured for three days for opposing Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir.Her jailers shaved her hair. She was told it was because “it looked like the hair of Arabs and she belonged to the slaves in Darfur,” said RSF. She was then reported to have taken refuge in her family home on November 6 and later fled the country

NISS’s unwelcome intrusion into media freedom does not stop here. In the same report RSF said that on March 24, NISS had confiscated all copies of the Arabic daily Al-Khartoum and in January, 14,000 copies of another Arabic-language publication Al-Sudani. In another statement, dated January 24, RSF said that the moves appeared to be the result of Al-Sudani reporting the Sudanese opposition meeting in Uganda’s Kampala to take forward the struggle against the Khartoum government.

Meanwhile, New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has recorded NISS’s role in closing and banning publications in Sudan. In a statement on June 6, CPJ said that three publications had been banned despite NISS and the Sudan’s information minister expressly agreeing earlier to suspend pre-publication censorship.

CPJ said Madiha Abdella, editor of the opposition Al-Midan, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, had told his staff that NISS had ordered the printing and distribution companies of the newspaper to suspend operations, although Al-Midan’s online version was permitted . CPJ also said that two other newspapers Al-Meghar al-Syasy and Al-Intibaha were banned from publishing on May 24. Al-Meghar al-Syasy was banned for criticising Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir seeking re-election in 2015 and Al-Intibaha for reporting clashes between the military and rebels in the restive South Kardofan region.

“The Sudanese government cannot have it both ways, offering to lift pre-publication censorship while at the same time reverting to its long-standing tactic of banning publications outright,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney.

The NISS has not been alone in intimidating journalists. CPJ said in a statement on July 17 that Bloomberg correspondent Michael Gunn was seized, detained assaulted and threatened by the police. Gunn who fled the country on July 2 was covering a meeting of an opposition party in Omdurman when he was taken in. “The journalist said that he was then 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,” CPJ said.

With Sudan’s independent media stifled and civil society crippled, NISS has very few obstacles in propping up the Al-Bashir regime. And, unlike Iran, the actions of the predators of Sudan’s media takes place with few countries bothering about them.

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