Sudanese security pulls plug on Khartoum Web conference

KHARTOUM Sat May 11, 2013 2:12pm EDT

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The organizer of a forum on promoting ideas through the Internet accused Sudanese state security agents on Saturday of shutting down the event in Khartoum by cutting off the power.

The local branch of New York-based TED, an independent group that spreads knowledge about the Internet and social media, drew 900 people to its 'Knowledge into Action' conference in a luxury hotel, its founder Anwar Dafa-Alla said.

After the first speech, a security agent came and asked to halt the event, saying there was no permit for it, Dafa-Alla told Reuters.

"We informed him that we have a permit from a government agency," he said. "But then a second security person came and asked again to stop the event."

He said security agents then ordered the hotel management to cut off power in the middle of a speech. Another conference participant confirmed this, but the security apparatus could not be immediately reached for comment.

According to its website, TED promotes "ideas worth spreading" by holding events to connect local communities. "It was our third annual event and totally non-political," Dafa-Alla said.

Speakers from the United States, Britain, India and Uganda had travelled to the forum on visas sponsored through a research institute affiliated to the telecommunications ministry, he said.

Sudan's security services have cracked down hard on independent think-tanks, rights groups and local newspapers which are not allowed to report about anti-government protests.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has been facing small protests, mainly from students who have been trying to bring an "Arab spring" to Sudan by using social media.

In December, security agents shut down the Al-Khatim Adlan Center for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE), a leading independent think-tank to promote democracy.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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