Sudan’s protests: Defying Bashir’s media blackout

For nearly two months, Sudan has witnessed almost daily protests demanding an end to Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule.

Article originally published by Aljazeera. 

For nearly two months, Sudan has witnessed almost daily demonstrations demanding an end to 30 years of one-man rule – that of President Omar al-Bashir.

“What is happening on the streets now, is more than mere demonstrations and protests – this is a revolution in the true sense of the word,” explains Shamael al-Noor, a journalist for Al Tayyar. “You can see signs of a shift, a switch in people’s ways of thinking, a demand for actual change.”

While the protests were set off by the rising cost of bread and fuel in the north of Sudan, they quickly grew into a demand for more political freedoms and an end to al-Bashir’s rule.

By the time they reached Khartoum, the domestic media outlets were ordered to stop covering the story and revoked the media credentials of half a dozen journalists while arresting 70 others. Online platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter were blocked.

The clampdown has not stopped activists and citizen journalists from getting those pictures out – security services beating protesters, in some cases shooting them or running them over.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) have allowed activists to circumvent the shutdown.

It’s the technology of choice in countries where the authorities cut off access to online sites – since VPN technology allows users to move beyond the control of any government.

“We work to document everything – the regime’s crimes and violations, the wounded, the martyrs – as many details as possible,” says a Khartoum-based activist with a hidden identity. “In our videos and pictures, it is very clear who is committing the crime. So the existence of social media acts as a very major deterrent.”

The framing of the demonstrations on television, when they are covered by state-owned channels, is decidedly pro-government.

The channels paraded student protesters from Darfur in front of the cameras, where they were forced to confess their ties to a rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army. It had all the elements of a show trial, made for television.

The government has banned newspapers from covering the protests. And the censorship comes in many forms and at various stages of the publication process.

“They call each chief editor to the security force’s offices and they give them warning and they give names,” according to journalist and columnist Khalid Al Eisir. “This particular name, if he wrote in your newspaper, we are going to punish you. Before they send their papers to printing, there is a security officer who always comes to check the newspaper if there is anything against the regime.”

The harassment of journalists in Sudan is not limited to the domestic media.

No foreign correspondent there has it easy these days, which is why international coverage of the story has been lacking.

However, correspondents from Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Arabiya have it worse, as their credentials have been revoked.

It’s clear the Bashir government fears pan-Arab news broadcasters more than other international outlets because those channels are telling this story in the language of the Sudanese street – Arabic.

“The red lines being imposed by the Sudanese government are in line with the words of the pharaohs: I will only show you what I see,” says Faisal Mohamed Salih, a journalist and columnist. “The government does not want the people to see anything other than what it deems permissible. Therefore, if the drawing of red lines is left to the government, they would encompass everything. There would be no limits.”

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