Sudan shut the Khartoum office of Radio Dabanga, whose reports on Darfur have angered it, and arrested 13 staff from the radio station and a rights group that shares its offices, the group’s chairman said.
US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Washington “strongly condemns” the reported shutdown of the radio station and the arrests.
Abdelmageed Salih, head of Human Rights and Advocacy Network for Democracy (HAND), told Reuters nine journalists and four HAND activists were detained during the weekend raids.
“They also raided and closed our office and took all the things inside like the computers and documents and Radio Dabanga equipment,” he said from the United States where he now lives. A civil society leader said on Monday nine were arrested, reports Reuters.
Radio Dabanga, registered in Holland, is one of few media outlets still reporting on the Darfur conflict. It is not licensed in Sudan and the government continually writes to the Dutch government asking them to close the station, Salih said.
HAND also has no legal status in Sudan. The government cracked down on rights groups following a 2009 International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes in Darfur. Many activists fled the country fearing for their lives.
A source in Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Services said they had no information about the arrests.
“When viewed in relation to the upcoming voter registration and referendum in the South … the arrests … show the determination of the Sudanese government to suppress civil society during this critical time, and the extent to which the freedom of expression … will not be tolerated,” the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies said in a statement.
In New York, US envoy Rice said in a statement that the arrests “indicate an emerging pattern of harassment and intimidation by the government of Sudan against civil society in advance of the scheduled January 9 referenda.”
Analysts say Sudan is using the January 9 referendum on secession as cover to end dissent in Darfur. Peace talks have made little progress, stifled by rebel divisions and ongoing military operations.
Despite a 2004 ceasefire, Khartoum has gradually reasserted control over most former rebel-held towns and areas, marginalising the insurgents. A recent rapprochement with neighbouring Chad cut off major supply lines to the guerrillas.