News from Khartoum
Sudan passes law criminalizing online publishing
In June this year, the Sudanese parliament passed the Cyber Crime Act, 2018, days after the Council of Ministers approved amendments in the Press and Publication Act (2018 amendments) prior to submission to the parliament for approval.
The new cyber crime law considers publishing on the Internet, unlike platforms, as electronic crime which falls under the category of “spreading false news” and “use of loose phrases” to raise concerns especially among journalists that they restrict freedom of expression, press freedoms and electronic publishing.”
Article 23 of the law imposes penalties such as “imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, flogging, or fine” for “anyone who uses the information network, communications or any means of information, communications or applications to disseminate any news, rumor or report, knowing that they are false, to cause fear or panic to public, threaten public safety, and derogate the prestige of the state.”
It also includes additional articles that can be used to prevent citizens from criticizing an issue in which a foreigner is party. It imposes a penalty of “two-year prison sentence or fine or both for anyone using the information or communication network or any means of information to incite hatred against foreigners, causing discrimination and hostility “.
Mr. Sami Abdul Halim Saeed, a university professor in the field of legal reforms, is of the view that laws in Sudan are passed and the penalties and the same issues duplicate in different laws. The Cyber Crime Act 2018, according to Saeed, who spoke to “SIMIC”, said that there are “duplicate articles” that are related in their general features to the Criminal Act, but they discuss issues dealt with in the Criminal Act of 1991.
In addition, the law passed by the Sudanese Parliament in chapter II included provisions relating to the hacking of networks and accounts and the blocking of the Internet, such as the penetration of “sites, systems, networks and communication services, access to other peoples’ sites and information systems, access to sites and information systems by a public official, blocking, suspending, disabling access to the service, jamming, disabling and tapping them.
In defending the law, the government says: it wants to regulate the electronic publishing process, but Mr. Saeed points out that the amended press law aims to “impose restrictions on electronic journalism after the government tightened its control over the paper press. Social media play a major role in criticizing government policy. Platforms such as news sites have provided a lot of room for journalists to publish their articles, which the security services do not allow to be published on paper newspapers. “
In a related context, the government agreed to the draft amendments to the press and publications law, but according to observers the law will not reach the parliament before intense debate and controversy, and raising of questions about whether it aims to organize the press or to close the press institutions.
This is obvious, according to Saeed, in the repetition by the Press and Publication Act of articles contained in other effective laws, such as the Press and Publications Act 2009, the Cybercrime Act 2007, the National Security Act 2010 and the Criminal Code 1991, as well as the Right to Information Act 2015. The amended press law grants authority to a committee known as the “Register Committee” which requires independent journalists to register with it. It is responsible for stopping the journalist from writing for the period it deems fit, issuing a notice of suspending the newspaper, temporarily withdrawing the license for a period not exceeding three months, and revoking license of the newspaper for unspecified period. This is what Saeed sees as an entry point for the government to impose censorship on cyberspace.
These new Sudanese laws for combating cybercrimes and the organization of electronic publishing and the press were not the first of their kind in the Arab region. Several Arab countries have enacted laws or measures restricting freedom of expression, such as Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 19 recognizes that: every one has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Sudan ratified and provides for the right to freedom of expression, states that: Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
Freedom of expression and information are also included in the Sudanese constitution. Article 39 (1) of the constitution states that: Every citizen shall have an unrestricted right to the freedom of expression, reception and dissemination of information, publication, and access to the press without prejudice to order, safety or public morals as determined by law.
The State shall guarantee the freedom of the press and other media as shall be regulated by law in a democratic society.
All media shall abide by professional ethics, shall refrain from inciting religious, ethnic, racial or cultural hatred and shall not agitate for violence or war.
The state is bound by the constitution as the supreme document in the legal body of the state.