Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The Interim National Constitution provided for freedom of expression, including freedom for the press “as regulated by law,” but the former Bashir regime heavily restricted this right. The 2019 constitutional declaration provides for the unrestricted right of freedom of expression and for freedom of the press as regulated by law, and the CLTG reportedly respected these rights.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the Bashir regime publicly or privately were subject to reprisal, including arbitrary arrest. The Bashir regime attempted to impede such criticism and monitored political meetings and the press. There were no reports of this occurring under the CLTG.
According to the Sudanese Journalists Network, between late December 2018 and mid-March, the Bashir regime arrested 90 journalists. All journalists have been released.
The former regime also curtailed public religious discussion if proselytization was suspected and monitored religious sermons and teachings (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The Interim National Constitution provided for freedom of the press, but Bashir regime authorities prevented media from reporting on issues they deemed sensitive. From January through April, the Bashir regime restricted coverage of the protests, resulting in the arrest of numerous journalists and near-daily confiscations of entire newspaper print runs. NISS declared news of the protests a “red line” topic and increased precensoring of newspapers to prevent publication of newspapers reporting on the protests. Journalists responded by staging peaceful demonstrations, and several newspapers ceased operations in protest against the escalating censorship. The former regime attempted to control reporting by staging pro-Bashir demonstrations and planting bogus news stories that blamed civil unrest on Darfuri rebels.
The former regime influenced radio and television reporting through the permit process as well as by offering or withholding regime payments for advertisements, based on how closely affiliated media outlets were with the regime.
The former regime controlled media through the National Council for Press and Publications, which administered mandatory professional examinations for journalists and oversaw the selection of editors. The council had authority to ban journalists temporarily or indefinitely. The registration of journalists was handled primarily by the Sudanese Journalists Network, which estimated there were 7,000 registered journalists in the country, although fewer than 200 of them were believed to be actively employed as journalists. The remainder were members of the former regime and security forces working on media issues who received automatic licenses.
The former regime arbitrarily arrested journalists, detaining them and holding them incommunicado, sometimes for weeks.
The CLTG reportedly respected press and media freedoms.
Violence and Harassment: The Bashir regime arrested, harassed, intimidated, and abused journalists and vocal critics of the regime. NISS required journalists to provide personal information, such as details on their ethnic group, political affiliation, and family. On March 2, NISS officers stormed the office of the Qatari and international news channel al-Jazeera in Khartoum and arrested correspondents Tahir El Mardi, Ismail Adam, Majdi Sadig, Ahmed Yassin, and Ahmad El Baseily. NISS subjected them to verbal and physical abuse before releasing them the next day. There were no reports of the CLTG using these tactics.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The former regime practiced direct prepublication and prebroadcast censorship of all forms of media. Confiscations of print runs was the censorship method most frequently used by NISS. This was an incentive to self-censorship. There were no reports of government censorship or print confiscations under the CLTG.
Former regime authorities used the Press and Publications Court, which specialized in media issues and “newspaper irregularities” and established under the Press and Publications Act, to prosecute “information crimes.”
Following the protests that began in December 2018 and continued throughout the first few months of the year, media censorship under the Bashir regime tightened, resulting in the arrests of several journalists and near-daily confiscations of entire newspaper print runs. NISS declared news on the protests a “red line” topic and then precensored newspapers to stop the publication of news on the protests. For example, on January 2, NISS forced editors of al-Tayar newspaper to remove columnist Shamaiel Alnour’s articles from the newspaper and remove her name and photo from all locations on the newspaper’s website due to her critical reports on the Bashir regime. NISS refused to allow the newspaper to refer to the column as “banned.”
Libel/Slander Laws: The law holds editors in chief potentially criminally liable for all content published in their newspapers.
National Security: Under the Bashir regime, the law allowed for restrictions on the press in the interests of national security and public order. It contained loosely defined provisions for bans on encouraging ethnic and religious disturbances and incitement of violence. The criminal code, National Security Act, and emergency laws were regularly used to bring charges against the press. Human rights activists called the law a “punishment” for journalists.
Under the Bashir regime, NISS initiated legal action against journalists for stories critical of the former regime and security services.
Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for the Media: The 2019 constitutional declaration provides for freedom of expression and the media, and the CLTG took measures to respect these rights.
At the UN General Assembly on September 25, Prime Minister Hamdok underscored, “Never again in the new Sudan will a journalist be repressed or jailed.” He also declared, “A free press is an important pillar in promoting democracy, good governance, and human rights.”
The CLTG extended entry to foreign journalists, including the return of al-Jazeera, which had been banned earlier in the year. Foreign journalists from al-Jazeera, BBC News, and Monte Carlo have returned to the country.
The former Bashir regime and TMC restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content, and there were credible reports the Bashir regime and the TMC monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The CLTG generally respected internet freedom.
The Bashir regime regulated licensing of telecommunications companies through the National Telecommunications Corporation. The agency blocked some websites and most proxy servers judged offensive to public morality, such as those purveying pornography. The TMC shut down internet access on June 3, the same day security forces violently dispersed peaceful demonstrators from the sit-in in front of the SAF headquarters (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.). Internet service to the country was restored on July 7.
Freedom House continued to rank the country as “not free” in its annual internet freedom report. According to the report, arrests and prosecutions under the Cybercrime Act grew during the year, reflecting a tactical shift in the government’s strategy to limit internet freedom. The report noted many journalists writing for online platforms published anonymously to avoid prosecution, while ordinary internet users in the country had become more inclined to self-censor to avoid government surveillance and arbitrary legal consequences.
The Bashir government restricted academic freedom, determined the curricula, and appointed vice chancellors responsible for administration at academic and cultural institutions. The Bashir regime continued to arrest student activists and cancel or deny permits for some student events. Youth activists reported some universities discouraged students from participating in antigovernment rallies and gave NCP students preferential treatment. Some professors exercised self-censorship. In January the Bashir regime arrested at least nine prominent academics, many from the University of Khartoum, for criticizing the regime. On February 19, the Bashir regime closed all public and private universities in the country to suppress political criticism. In April the TMC ordered universities to reopen, but not all did. After the CLTG was established, however, all major universities reopened.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the Bashir regime and the TMC restricted these rights. These rights, however, were generally respected by the CLTG.
Although the Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, the Bashir regime severely restricted this right. The criminal code makes gatherings of more than five persons without a permit illegal. Organizers must notify the regime 36 hours prior to assemblies and rallies.
On June 3, security forces violently dispersed thousands of peaceful protesters, killing more than 100 who had assembled on the streets in front of SAF headquarters (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.). On July 28, soldiers killed as many as eight high school students in Nyala, South Darfur, when they were protesting the price of bread.
The Bashir regime denied permission to Islamic orders associated with opposition political parties, particularly the Ansar (National Umma Party) and the Khatmiya (Democratic Unionist Party), to hold large gatherings in public spaces, but parties regularly held opposition rallies on private property. Bashir government security agents occasionally attended opposition meetings, disrupted opposition rallies, or summoned participants to security headquarters for questioning after meetings. Opposition political parties claimed they were almost never granted official permits to hold meetings, rallies, or peaceful demonstrations. Security forces used tear gas and other heavy-handed tactics against largely peaceful protests at universities or involving university students. NISS and police forces regularly arrested Darfuri students at various universities for publicly addressing civilians.
The Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the former regime severely restricted this right. The law prohibits political parties linked to armed opposition groups. The Bashir government closed civil society organizations or refused to register them on several occasions.
Former regime security forces arbitrarily enforced legal provisions that strictly regulated an organization’s ability to receive foreign financing and register public activities. The former regime maintained its policy of “Sudanization” of international NGOs. Many organizations reported they faced administrative difficulties if they refused to have proregime groups implement their programs at the state level.
The 2019 constitutional declaration specifies the rights to peaceful assembly and association.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, and emigration, but the Bashir government restricted these rights for foreigners, including humanitarian workers. After the lifting of certain foreign economic sanctions in 2017, the government slightly eased restrictions for humanitarian workers and invited previously banned humanitarian groups back into the country, although the new measures were implemented unevenly in the field. In December the International Rescue Committee, banned in 2009, opened an office in Khartoum.
The former regime impeded the work of UN agencies and delayed full approval of their activities throughout the country, particularly in the Two Areas; however, there were fewer such restrictions than in prior years. NGOs also alleged the Bashir government impeded humanitarian assistance in the Two Areas. The SPLM-N also restricted access for humanitarian assistance in the Two Areas due to concerns over the security of commodities crossing from government-held areas into SPLM-N-controlled areas.
In-country Movement: The Bashir regime and rebels restricted the movement of citizens in conflict areas (see section 1.g.).
Under the Bashir regime, internal movement was generally unhindered for citizens outside conflict areas. Foreigners needed travel permits for domestic travel outside Khartoum, which were bureaucratically difficult to obtain. Foreigners were required to register with the Ministry of Interior’s Alien Control Division within three days of arrival and were limited to a 15.5-mile radius from Khartoum. Once registered, foreigners were allowed to move beyond this radius, but travel outside of Khartoum State to conflict regions required official approval. The CLTG eased these requirements, especially for travel to tourist sites.
Foreign Travel: The Bashir government required citizens to obtain an exit visa to depart the country. Issuance was usually without complication, but the Bashir government continued to use the visa requirement to restrict some citizens’ travel, especially of persons it deemed a political or security interest. A number of opposition leaders were denied boarding for flights out of the country, and in some cases their passports were confiscated.
Exile: The Bashir government observed the law prohibiting forced exile, but under the Bashir regime political opponents abroad risked arrest upon return. Under the Bashir government, some opposition leaders and NGO activists remained in self-imposed exile in northern Africa and Europe. Other activists fled the country after security forces disbanded sit-ins in June, but the majority of these activists returned after the CLTG took power. After the removal of the former president, the TMC forcibly deported leaders of armed movements to South Sudan. During and following the revolution, however, several prominent opposition members returned to Sudan to participate in the formation of the new government. Some members of the armed movements remained in exile, and some expressed concern about their civic and political rights even with the 2015 general amnesty for those taking part in the national dialogue.
Large-scale displacement continued to be a severe problem in Darfur and the Two Areas.
According to the United Nations and partners, during the year an estimated 27,000 persons were newly displaced in Jebel Marra, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan. Of those, approximately 19,000 were mostly displaced in Jebel Marra alone. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported the vast majority of the displacement during the year was triggered by intercommunal and other armed conflict. There was an increase in reports of IDPs attempting to return to or access their farmlands in Darfur. Many IDPs faced chronic food shortages and inadequate medical care. Significant numbers of farmers were prevented from planting their fields due to insecurity, leading to near-famine conditions in parts of South Kordofan. The Bashir government and the SPLM-N continued to deny access to humanitarian actors and UN agencies in areas controlled by the SPLM-N. Information about the number of IDPs in these areas was difficult to verify. Armed groups estimated the areas contained 545,000 IDPs and severely affected persons during the year, while the government estimated the number as closer to 200,000. UN agencies could not provide estimates, citing lack of access. Children accounted for approximately 60 percent of persons displaced in camps.
Bashir government restrictions, harassment, and the threat of expulsion resulted in continued interruption of gender-based violence programming. Reporting and outreach were limited (see section 5). Some UN agencies were able to work with the Darfur governor’s advisers on women and children to raise awareness of gender-based violence and response efforts.
Throughout the year, there were reports of abuse committed by government security forces, rebels, and armed groups against IDPs in Darfur, including rapes and beatings (see section 1.g.).
Outside IDP camps and towns, insecurity restricted freedom of movement; women and girls who left the towns and camps risked sexual violence. Insecurity within IDP camps also was a problem. The government provided little assistance or protection to IDPs in Darfur. Most IDP camps had no functioning police force. International observers noted criminal gangs aligned with rebel groups operated openly in several IDP camps. The protests in Khartoum redirected government forces, namely the RSF, from Darfur to Khartoum, leaving a security vacuum, which prompted an increase in violence.
As in previous years, neither the Bashir government nor the CLTG government established formal IDP or refugee camps in Khartoum or the Two Areas.
f. Protection of Refugees
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 1,056,536 refugees and asylum seekers in the country, the majority of whom were South Sudanese. The South Sudanese and Syrian refugee and asylum seeker populations did not regularly present themselves to the government’s Commission for Refugees or to UNHCR for registration. UNHCR reported there were countless South Sudanese in the country who were unregistered and at risk of statelessness.
Approximately 3,091 refugees from Chad and 13,747 from the Central African Republic lived in Darfur. New Eritrean refugees entering eastern Sudan often stayed in camps for two to three months before moving to Khartoum, other parts of the country, or on to Libya in an effort to reach Europe. In eastern Sudan, UNHCR estimated there were 7,300 new arrivals, mostly from Eritrea, as of October. There was a 50 percent rate of onward movement from the eastern refugee camps. The Bashir government eased international humanitarian NGOs’ access to eastern Sudan, as it did throughout the country, and the CLTG lifted restrictions further.
In 2018 UNHCR and the government amended the official South Sudanese refugee statistics to include South Sudanese living in Sudan before December 2013. UNHCR estimated that 859,000 South Sudanese refugees were in Sudan. The government claimed there were between two and three million South Sudanese refugees in Sudan. It remained unclear how the government was categorizing who was South Sudanese and who was Sudanese. Many South Sudanese refugees arrived in remote areas with minimal public infrastructure and where humanitarian organizations and resources were limited.
As of October UNHCR Khartoum hosted an estimated 284,000 South Sudanese refugees, including 60,000 refugees who lived in nine settlements known as “open areas.” South Sudanese refugees in the open areas made up approximately 20 percent of the overall South Sudanese refugee population and were considered among the most vulnerable refugee communities. A 2017 joint government and UN assessment of the open areas indicated gaps in protection, livelihood, shelter, health, and education services.
Sudan’s and South Sudan’s “four freedoms” agreement provides their citizens reciprocal freedom of residence, movement, economic activity, and property ownership, but it was not fully implemented. The Bashir government stated that, because South Sudanese are recognized as refugees (since 2016), their rights were governed by the Asylum Act, justifying a lack of implementation of the four freedoms. Implementation also varied by state in each country. For example, South Sudanese in East Darfur had more flexibility to move around (so long as they were far away from the nearest village) than did those in White Nile State. Recognition as refugees allowed South Sudanese to receive more services from UNHCR. At the state level, however, governments still referred to them as “brothers and sisters.”
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Asylum seekers and refugees were vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and harassment outside of camps because they did not possess identification cards while awaiting government determination of refugee or asylum status. According to authorities, registration of refugees helped provide for their personal security.
There were some reported abuses, including gender-based violence, in refugee camps. Throughout the year, the government worked closely with UNHCR to provide greater protection to refugees.
Refugees often relied on human trafficking and smuggling networks to leave camps. Smugglers turned traffickers routinely abused refugees if ransoms were not paid. In June South Sudanese refugees living in open areas in Khartoum and in refugee camps in White Nile State were attacked by the host communities. Fear of violence prompted some of the South Sudanese refugee population in Khartoum and White Nile to return to South Sudan. South Sudanese refugee returnees faced arrest, extortion, and theft along the route through Sudan to South Sudan.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report. “www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt” www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt
Refoulement: The country generally respected the principle of nonrefoulement with a few notable exceptions. With UNHCR’s assistance, authorities were trained on referral procedures to prevent refoulement, including of refugees who previously registered in other countries. There were no reported cases of refoulement during the year; however, individuals who were deported as illegal migrants may have had legitimate claims to asylum or refugee status.
Access to Asylum: The law requires asylum applications to be nominally submitted within 30 days of arrival in the country. This time stipulation was not strictly enforced. The law also requires asylum seekers to register both as refugees with the Commission for Refugees and as foreigners with the Civil Registry (to obtain a “foreign” number).
Throughout the year, the government granted asylum to many asylum seekers, particularly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Syria; it sometimes considered individuals registered as asylum seekers or refugees in another country, mostly in Ethiopia, to be irregular movers or migrants. Government officials routinely took up to three months to approve individual refugee and asylum status, but they worked with UNHCR to implement quicker status determination procedures in eastern Sudan and Darfur to reduce the case backlog.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, more than 93,000 Syrians have registered with UNHCR. Throughout the year, government sources, however, claimed there were far more Syrians in the country than were registered with UNHCR and the Commission for Refugees. The government waived regular entry visa requirements for Yemenis throughout the year. As of October more than 1,600 Yemeni refugees had registered in the country.
Freedom of Movement: The country maintained a reservation on Article 26 of the UN Convention on Refugees of 1951 regarding refugees’ right to move freely and choose their place of residence within a country. The government’s encampment policy throughout the year requires asylum seekers and refugees to stay in designated camps; however, 76 percent of South Sudanese refugees (the great majority of refugees in the country) lived with the local community in urban and rural areas. Throughout the year the government continued to push for the relocation of South Sudanese refugees living outside Khartoum city to the White Nile state refugee camps. UNHCR notified the government relocations must be voluntary and dignified. By year’s end the CLTG had yet to relocate South Sudanese refugees to camps. The government allowed the establishment of two refugee camps in East Darfur and nine refugee camps in White Nile for South Sudanese refugees.
Refugees who left camps without permission and were intercepted by authorities faced administrative fines and return to the camp. Refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas were also subject to arrest and detention. UNHCR worked with legal partners to visit the immigration detention centers and to provide persons of concern with legal assistance, such as release from detention centers and help navigating court procedures. UNHCR assisted 1,907 persons of concern in 2018; as of June it had assisted 370 persons of concern during the year. On average, 150 to 200 refugees and asylum seekers were detained in Khartoum each month and assisted with legal aid by the joint UNHCR and Commission for Refugees legal team.
Employment: Throughout the year, the government in principle allowed refugees to work informally, but rarely granted work permits (even to refugees who obtained degrees in the country). A UNHCR agreement with the Commission for Refugees to issue more than 1,000 work permits to selected refugees for a livelihood graduation program was being implemented in Kassala and Gedaref. The commission issued 35 work permits in 2018 and 188 work permits in 2017. To get a work permit, NISS required refugees to apply for a “foreigner number,” but most refugees did not have a “foreigner number”–which is why the number of issued work permits was low. Some refugees in eastern states found informal work as agricultural workers or laborers in towns. Some women in camps reportedly resorted to illegal production of alcohol and were harassed or arrested by police. In urban centers the majority of refugees worked in the informal sector (for example, as tea sellers, house cleaners, and drivers), leaving them at heightened risk of arrest, exploitation, and abuse.
Temporary Protection: The government claimed to register asylum seekers as soon as it could and, if the first point of entry was in East Sudan, then registration normally would take place in 72 hours. Asylum seekers underwent a security check by NISS (later GIS) that could take one to two months. The Commission for Refugees proceeded with a refugee status determination assessment, which took an estimated 14 days. Asylum seekers are given full protection during this time.