19 dead: Bashir shuts social media as journalists join riots

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Clashes between Sudanese anti-riot police and protesters in demonstrations against a rise in bread prices have killed 19 people, including two security force personnel, the government said on Thursday.

“Nineteen people lost their lives in the incidents including two from security forces,” government spokesperson Boshara Juma said on state television, adding that 219 people were wounded.

Sudanese authorities had previously said that eight people have been killed in clashes in Khartoum and several other cities since the protests began on 19 December.

Journalists protest

A Sudanese journalists’ network and a number of labour and trade unions issued calls Thursday for a day of peaceful protests against the government.

They say the protests are aimed at drawing attention to what the groups consider an excessive use of force against people who have taken to the streets to condemn a rise in food and fuel prices.

Protesters this week called for the resignation of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who on Thursday accused “large Western states” of provoking the economic crisis which now embroils the country.

Meanwhile, the head of Sudan’s parliament has summoned Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Othman for questions about the casualties.

Suleiman Idriss, secretary general of the Islamic Party, a component of the governing coalition in Sudan, told journalists that peaceful protests are protected by the constitution and that spilling blood is unacceptable.

Idriss said that he opposes killing and the use of violence and that citizens anywhere in the country have the right to protest in accordance with the constitution and all international human rights declarations.

He called on the government to conduct an inquiry into the death of protesters, since the people’s blood is sacred and must not be spilled.

However, Youssef Jalal, a spokesman for the journalists’ network, told Arab media that journalists are not satisfied.

Jalal said that the journalists’ network is calling for a work stoppage and its members will be covering only essential news, along with what he called the repression taking place in the streets (by security forces).

He said that parliament’s decision to question the interior minister over the use of force is not a convincing move, since most members of parliament belong to the ruling party.

Social media lockdown

Rather than addressing the critical political and economic issues Sudan is facing, the government has decided to shut down social media and introduced a state of emergency.

Accessing information and exercising freedom of expression – especially in times of unrests –  are essential: it enables many to reach emergency and medical services, access life-saving information, and reach family and friends at home and abroad. Blocking access to social media has put many lives at risk and will continue to do so unless the government allows the free flow of information.

“The Sudanese authorities seem to have decided to curb access to social media to contain the crisis, and restrict the information available about what’s going on in the country,” said Access Now’s Advocacy Director Melody Patry.

“Interfering with internet access and digital communications is not unprecedented in Sudan. This attempt of censorship and information control must stop.”

This is not the first time Sudanese have been on the streets protesting rising fuel prices, and unfortunately, this is not the first time the Sudanese government has shut down social media in response to protests.

Moreover, as many of the protesters across the country are protesting the rising prices of food and other essential items, cutting access to social media only adds fuel to the fire: it will contribute to the grave economic crisis and the high inflation facing Sudan. This countrywide social media outage is costing Sudan $7,521,798 per day.

Pressure is building on telecom companies operating in the country, including MTN Sudan and Zain Sudan, to more transparently notify the public of restrictions and push back against government requests that could violate human rights.

President Bashir came to power in a 1989 coup. He is wanted on an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for human rights violations in the country’s Darfur state.

Lawmakers recently amended the constitution to allow him to run for another term in 2020.

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