Sudan blocks three newspaper for "plot" coverage: journalists

KHARTOUM Mon Nov 26, 2012 12:04pm EST

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese security agents blocked the Monday editions of three newspapers that had covered the arrest of a former spy chief over an alleged plot, journalists said, a move that highlighted the sensitivity of the issue.

Salah Gosh, former head of Sudan's powerful intelligence and security agency, was arrested with 12 others on Thursday on suspicion of plotting to "incite chaos" and "undermine stability" in the country, said authorities.

Analysts outside Sudan said the arrests lifted the lid on divisions in Sudan's power structure and could be seen as a warning to people suspected of planning to challenge the authority of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Inside Sudan, media reported on the arrests but did not speculate on their significance, tending to stick to repeating government statements.

Some of the most extensive domestic coverage was printed by daily newspapers Ahir Lahtha, al-Mashad Alan and al-Wefaq - all considered close to the government. They ran pictures of Gosh, articles about his background and Al-Wefaq quoted lawyers saying they wanted to defend him.

Ahir Lahtha editor Mustafa Abu al-Azaim told Reuters agents arrived after midnight at the printing house and ordered staff not to distribute Monday's edition.

"First they didn't give us a reason but then they said the ban was because of coverage of the sabotage plot," he said.

Reporters at al-Wefaq and al-Mashad Alan also said agents had banned them from distributing their Monday print-runs.

Sudanese journalists complain of frequent restrictions on press freedom, even though censorship was officially abolished in 2009.

Security agents often confiscate entire editions after printing is finished to inflict losses on papers as a punishment for critical coverage, journalists say.

The National Press Council, which is formally in charge of licensing newspapers but has little power, could not be reached for comment.

Sudan ranked 170 out of 179 in a global press freedom index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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