Being the first union in Sudan since 30 years, it is bringing hope amidst a tumultuous time for freedom of speech in a country that has been thrown into different governments and uprisings like a game of catch.

Despite the crackdown on journalists and protesters brought on by the violent military coup beginning in October of 2021 that has taken at least 100 lives already, the union was voted on August 28 with 1,164 members and is led by elected-head Abdelmoniem Abu Idrees who works for Agence France-Presse.

IMAGO/ZUMA Wire Sudan Journalists Union, Freedom of Speech
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Neveen Jalal | Sudanese anti-coup protesters take part in ongoing demonstrations against the military, in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on March 3, 2022.
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IMAGO / Zuma Wire | Citizen journalist Yassin Hassen reporting in the Nuba Mountains. 12 December, 2012.

This step was long-overdue in Sudan.

When Omar al-Bashir came to power in 1989, journalists were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and the last independent journalists’ union was dissolved. After a 2019 ousting of al-Bashir – supported by alliances of doctors, lawyers and journalists – which resulted in a civilian-led transitional government, journalists were given a bit of slack. Now the military has taken back control before elections were due this year, and licenses of radio stations have already been suspended, journalists have been assaulted, newsrooms have been stormed and two independent newspapers, the Democratic and al-Hadatha, have stopped printing. 

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IMAGO / Xinhua | Celebrations in Khartoum as the civilian transitional government is signed into power. 17 August, 2019.
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor based in Geneva reported 55 attacks by Sudanese authorities between October 2021 and March 2022 targeting journalists and media, including physical assaults, storming, restricting access, detention and more.  Just last month Mohamed El Mustafa was one of several journalists violently attacked by armed forces, and Military Intelligence banned journalists from entering Darfur in January after the deadly El Geneina attacks causing at least 100,000 deaths, for example. 
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IMAGO / Zuma Wire | Citizen journalist Yassin Hassen reporting in the Nuba Mountains. 12 December, 2012.
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IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Neveen Jalal | Sudanese anti-coup protesters take part in ongoing demonstrations against the military, in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on 15 March, 2022.

The journalists’ union prevailed against all odds, yet still faces an uphill battle in confronting the military crackdown. One of the first important steps is to navigate reporting under a 2009 media law which essentially allows state censorship and control over licensing, criminal sanctions and fines for news outlets which was put in place by the former regime. 

The code of honor and statutes for the Sudanese Journalists’ Union was signed in Khartoum in an effort to restore the rights of journalists and is a major step forward for freedom of speech and human rights, not only in Sudan but also in setting an example for other nations. 

IMAGO’s photojournalists in Sudan show us both the civilian resistance against the military coup, and celebrate the journalists who have refused to shy away from the threats staring them in the face. A glimmer of hope for journalists is underway in Sudan as we follow it for our latest series, New Narrative.

IMAGO/ZUMA Wire Sudan Journalists Union, Freedom of Speech
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Neveen Jalal | Sudanese anti-coup protesters take part in ongoing demonstrations against the military, in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on 15 March, 2022.
IMAGO/ZUMA Wire Sudan Journalists Union, Freedom of Speech
IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Ela Yokes | Protester protects himself from tear gas during a protest against military rule in Khartoum, Sudan, on 12 May, 2022.
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IMAGO / Zuma Wire / Ela Yokes | Burning tires during a protest against military rule in Khartoum, Sudan, on 12 May, 2022.
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IMAGO / Xinhua | Newspaper stand in Khartoum, Sudan amidst the referendum which will decide if Sudan will be split into north and south. 4 January, 2011.
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IMAGO / Zuma Wire | Ryan Boyette, left, works with Yassin Hassen, right, in an interview with a rebel in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains. 12 December, 2012.
imago images/ZUMA Wire Sudan Journalists Union, Freedom of Speech
IMAGO / Zuma Wire | Citizen journalist Yassin Hassen reporting in the Nuba Mountains. 12 December, 2012.
Article by columnist Sofia Bergmann as part of our New Narrative series.