Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) has ordered the closure of Al Jazeera amid a standoff with protestors who have been demanding that power should be handed to a civilian government ever since the overthrow of former President Omar Al-Bashir in April.
Al Jazeera announced the closure today on Twitter: “#Sudanese authorities have abruptly shut down #AlJazeera ’s #Khartoum bureau and banned its journalists from reporting from the country.”
— Al Jazeera PR (@AlJazeera) May 31, 2019
Further details of the TMC’s decision were provided by the Qatar-based network’s correspondent in Sudan, Ahmed Al-Reheid. He said that officials from various security agencies arrived and informed the network of the military council’s closure of the office and seizure of its contents. No reason was given for the sudden move.
“In a complete violation of the freedom of the press,” said Al Jazeera, “the Sudanese authorities have abruptly shut down our Khartoum bureau and banned our journalists from reporting from the country. The network sees this as an attack on media freedom, professional journalism and the basic tenets of the right of people to know and understand the reality of what is happening in Sudan.”
The network insisted that it will continue its coverage of Sudan despite this “political interference” by the Sudanese authorities, which it called upon to ensure “the immediate resumption of operations of Al Jazeera’s Khartoum bureau, in the spirit of the press freedoms guaranteed by the Sudanese constitution.”
TMC’s decision to go after Al Jazeera comes at a critical moment in the Sudanese people’s campaign to replace the military regime with a civilian government. The standoff appeared to have taken a turn for the worse after the military threatened to prosecute protestors in the capital.
Sudan analysts believe that tensions between the military and the Sudanese people escalated because of the interference of counter-revolutionary forces in the region. They claim that the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt will not allow the military to hand over power to a civilian authority.
On Sunday, the head of Sudan’s military council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, met Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. His meeting in the UAE came on the back of a trip to Egypt and a visit by his deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, to Saudi Arabia.
Authoritarian regimes in the region see Al Jazeera and its reputation for independent journalism as a major threat to their authority. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, who have been leading a boycott of Qatar for nearly two years, have demanded that the network be shut down as one of the conditions for lifting the blockade of their Gulf neighbour.