Sudanese journalists surrounded Parliament for over three hours in
protests against a draft press law giving authorities the power to shut
down newspapers, writes Dennis Itumbi for

The new bill makes provision for a 50,000-Sudanese-pound (US$21 500) fine for "infractions" and allow a government-run Press Council to close newspapers.

"We shall no longer watch as freedom of expression is being washed away by parliament, we want to send that message in the most clear way possible," said one of the journalists, Maaz Idris Alnugomi.

He added: "Maybe nothing ruins the truth like stretching it. But I believe that it is twice as hard to crush a half-truth as a whole lie. So, looking for the truth is a job for a journalist, and the law is merely creating a conflict between the truth and open lies."

Demonstrators held up placards calling for "a free press or no press".

Around 150 deputies walked out of the session as the bill was discussed, including members of the Southern People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) which signed a 2005 peace deal with Khartoum to end a decades-long civil war between North and South Sudan.

"We do not agree with our partners in the (ruling) National Congress party over the law's main points," said Yasser Arman, head of the SPLM parliamentary bloc.

The bill "curbs freedom of expression and goes against the constitution by not giving journalists the freedom to obtain information," said the independent Sudanese Journalists’ Network in a statement.

In a recent report, the New York-based Human Rights Watch criticised the draft law as "repressive" and "vague."

It contains "many repressive provisions of the current 2004 Press and Publications Act, including strict media registration rules, vague reporting prohibitions, a National Press Council that lacks independence and has broad regulatory powers, and heavy fines and criminal sanctions for media outlets and journalists," the group said.