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Sudan government cracks down on newspapers over 'rape' story

Sudanese security forces have confiscated the print runs of ten newspapers, and suspended licenses of four others, editors and NGO's have said. Authorities reportedly mounted the move in response to a rape story.

Employees of the newspapers told Reuters news agency that security forces had entered the newspapers' printing presses and confiscated the entire print runs late Sunday night and early Monday morning.

After seizing the daily circulation of ten media outlets, National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) officers called the editors of four additional papers to tell them that their licenses had been suspended, according to Al-Bagir Ahmed Abdallah, chief editor of Sudanese daily al-Khartoum.

Abdallah was told his paper had been suspended over an article concerning a consumer rights forum. In the article, one speaker discussed "the sexual abuse of school- and nursery-children on the buses that transport them," he said, adding that the decision to seize the papers had come from the head of NISS.

The newspapers were planning to run articles based on the activist's Sunday speech, specifically his claims that rape and sexual harassment in such instances were common.

A source inside NISS told Reuters that the seizures were related to the story.

"Today we disrupted the distribution of ten newspapers ... for having yesterday published irresponsibly on the subjects of crimes of harassment and rape," the unnamed source told Reuters.

He added that four of the newspapers would be prohibited from publishing for several more days, and the state may pursue charges against some of the outlets.

President wanted for genocide

Sudan, which has been ruled by president Omar al-Bashir for over 25 years, is known for its poor record on human rights and press freedom. The media in the country often complain of pressure and harassment from the security services.

Although NISS officers often seize newspapers they believe to be inappropriate, crackdowns on this scale remain rare. The last such incident occurred in February, some two months before al-Bashir allegedly won over 94 percent of the vote in a controversial election. On that occasion, NISS seized the print runs of 14 papers.

Security services have additionally increased pressure on media and political freedoms after the election, analysts say.

The 71-year old Sudanese strongman is facing international arrest warrants for war crimes in the Darfur region, including genocide.

Media union pushing for review

The General Journalists' Union criticized the seizure in a statement, "pointing to their negative impact on the situation of press freedoms in Sudan".

The Union said it would raise the confiscations with the presidency, information ministry and NISS, urging officials to "review what has happened and to put an end to these extraordinary measures."

dj/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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