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Call for the authorities to respect press freedom ahead of South Sudan independence vote

Historic vote: People participate in a rally to show support for the independence referendum in the southern Sudanese city of Juba January 7, 2011 in Juba Sudan. South Sudan, one of the worlds poorest countries, is preparing for an independence referendum to take place this Sunday following a historic 2005 peace treaty that brought to an end decades of civil war between the Arab north and predominantly Christian and animist south.

The authorities in Southern Sudan and the government in the capital Khartoum have been urged to guarantee the safety of journalists and pluralism of news and information two days ahead of an historic referendum on independence for South Sudan.

The South Sudanese will vote on January 9 – marking a decisive step in their history – whether or not to secede from the rest of Sudan, bringing about partition of Africa’s largest country, on the sixth anniversary of the peace agreement that ended a civil war that tore the north and south apart for nearly 20 years.

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has noted, along with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, restrictions to press freedom that occurred during 2010 in the lead up to the referendum. They hope that these violations will not be repeated.

“As in so many elections on the African continent, there is a real risk of freedom of expression being flouted and journalists prevented from working normally”, the organisation’s Secretary General, Jean-François Julliard said. “We remind the authorities of their responsibility to guarantee the people the right of access to free, pluralist and balanced news and information, and journalists to freely carry out their work”.

The referendum is being held against a background of deep uncertainty as people feel themselves caught between hope and fear of the outcome. Some observers have warned of a serious humanitarian crisis, even a civil war, as a result of the poll. After saying he would refuse to countenance partition, President Omar al-Bashir has promised to respect the results of the referendum and to “help” Southern Sudan establish a “secure and stable” state in the event of secession. Reporters Without Borders hopes that the vote will go ahead peacefully in complete respect of human rights, democracy and freedom of the press.

Sudan is ranked 172nd out of 178 countries in RSF's 2010 world press freedom index. Its poor position in the rankings is due to President al-Bashir’s failure to keep his promise to lift prior censorship on the written press, to the ban on some privately owned publications, to the surveillance of many journalists in Khartoum and elsewhere in the country as well as continued arrests of journalist and harsh prison conditions.

Three journalists on the opposition daily Rai al-Shaab (the People’s Opinion), Abuzar al Amin, Ashraf Abdelaziz and Altahir Ibrahim (alias Altahir Abugawhara), have been held in custody since February 2010. Another journalist, Gafar Alsabki Ibrahim, of the independent newspaper Alsahafa, has been held since the start of November 2010.

Date posted: January 7, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 232