On 21 September, 10 Sudanese civil society and human rights organisations (names have been withheld, as protection against reprisals) in collaboration with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and Alternatives, submitted a stakeholder report to the second UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Sudan, scheduled to take place in Geneva in April 2016. This review comes at a time of increasing repression by the Sudanese government, which continues to tighten its grip on freedom of expression and association in the country.
This coalition submission focuses on freedom of expression in Sudan, including media freedom, limitations on access to information, censorship, violations of human rights online, protection of journalists, and violence against women journalists. The submission also documents human rights violations in relation to constitutional amendments, the anti-terrorism act, and special courts; religious freedom; and freedom of association and assembly. The issues highlighted in this report represent only a fraction of the human rights violations experienced in Sudan.
The submission includes a specific focus on implementation of commitments made by the government of Sudan since its first review. In May 2011, Sudan agreed to “[r]espect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly by allowing human rights defenders, political dissidents and journalists to express their views freely in line with international human rights law.”
Despite its acceptance of this recommendation, the government of Sudan has taken new steps to suppress freedom of expression in Sudan, in an effort to conceal massive human rights violations committed with impunity by state officials.
One such example is the continued role of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) in the arrest, harassment, intimidation and torture of journalists and vocal critics of the government. News editors report warnings by the authorities to ban any reports or interviews on what have been deemed as “sensitive issues” such as state corruption incidents, military operations taking place in the conflict zones, and any issues that might be considered critical. The NISS has also engaged in the process confiscating published newspapers after printing as a punitive measure.
In 2011, Sudan established a special unit called the “Cyber Jihadist Unit” and imported remote control systems (RCS) and sophisticated computer spyware to manipulate information and spy on government opponents, journalists, human rights activists and various youth groups.
A report published in February 2014 by the Citizen Lab has documented the Cyber Jihadist Unit’s use of advanced equipment, often imported from Italian companies, to filter web content, censor emails and other internet communications, and spy on the political opposition and journalists. According to the report, Sudan’s NISS has gone far beyond its core duties by censoring or spying on journalists and other information providers.
The government of Sudan has further failed to implement recommendations to revise the Press and Publications Act, first passed in 2009 and harshly criticised at Sudan’s 2011 review. The government accepted a recommendation to bring the law in line with its international obligations. Instead, in 2014, the government announced a new draft of the law which increases pressure on media and freedom of expression, dictating stricter punishments for journalists that include two-month work suspensions and revocation of their licence.
The coalition of Sudanese and international civil society organisations involved in developing this submission call on the international community to hold Sudan accountable for its human rights violations, and to ensure protection of human rights defenders and journalists who shed light on human rights violations in the country.