Sudan: Government announces end of censorship but Khartoum Monitor stays closed

Reporters Without Borders today hailed Omar Hassan Al Bashir's announcement on 10 July of the lifting of the state of emergency but called for this to be followed quickly by real and significant improvements in press freedom.

"The repeal of the emergency laws in force since the 1989 coup must not be contradicted by government intolerance towards the independent news media," the organisation said, calling on the authorities to respect the undertakings they have given.

A new constitution signed on 9 July by President Al Bashir and the new vice-president, John Garang, the head of the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), is less restrictive than the previous one and does not subordinate press freedom to the imperatives of public order, security or morals.

The National Security Organ also confirmed the lifting of censorship on 10 July, saying the news media "must play their national role without there being any need to restrict them." The next day, the Al Ayam and Juba Post newspapers had enthusiastic front pages predicting a new era for the Sudanese press.

But many journalists are sceptical. The English-language Khartoum Monitor, an independent newspaper that was widely read in the former rebel south until banned by a high court judge on 12 June, has still not been able to reopen. The banning was the result of an interview it published in 2003 in which a former government minister, Santino Deng, who is now dead, accused the government of practising forms of slavery.

In the presence of several African presidents, European and American officials and of UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, President Al Bashir said on 11 July he was committed to the democratisation of Sudan, to the rule of law and to freedom, and that these would no longer be curtailed by emergency laws.