KHARTOUM: Sudanese prosecutors on Monday banned journalists from reporting on the case of former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, detained after reportedly accusing a counter-insurgency unit of abuses against civilians in Darfur.
The order comes after a watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, warned of authorities’ “increasingly repressive attitude to the media”, despite government talk of greater freedoms in the country.
Mahdi is charged with treason-related offences and could face a possible death sentence if convicted.
State security prosecutors “banned the publication and the media’s dealing with the criminal case” of Mahdi, the official SUNA news agency said.
The decision was made to avoid negatively affecting the investigation and course of justice, it said.
The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) arrested Mahdi, chief of the opposition Umma Party, on May 17.
He had reportedly accused the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which are under the authority of NISS, of rape and other abuses of civilians in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
RSF commanders denied that their unit had raped, looted or committed arson.
After his arrest, Mahdi’s party pulled out of talks with the ruling National Congress and other parties aimed at resolving the multiple crises gripping the impoverished, war-torn country.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir appealed in January for the national political dialogue, and hinted at greater freedoms.
Since then, a tenuous political opening occurred as parties rallied without interference from security forces, and reports on alleged official corruption flourished in local newspapers.
But analysts have said that, even if Bashir is serious about reform, his party is divided and the security service is opposed.
Veteran journalist Mahjoub Mohamed Salih wrote in a Sunday column that the government is trying to present Mahdi’s case not as a “political detention” but one carried out according to the law.
NISS in fact has the right to detain people for more than four months without judicial review.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said on Thursday that the security agency had ordered the suspension of Al-Saiha newspaper after it published accusations of corruption in the justice ministry.
“The government’s talk of ‘national dialogue’ and respect for media freedom is clearly contradicted by its actions,” the watchdog’s research director Lucie Morillon said.
SUNA last week quoted Sudan’s Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman as saying “there should be a balance between freedom and responsibility” in press freedom.
He said that the state would not retreat from the national dialogue but there should be “red lines”, one of which is critical discussion of the armed forces.