KHARTOUM: Sudanese authorities must end the "harassment and intimidation" of journalists ahead of a referendum on southern independence next year, Amnesty International said on Friday.
"No credible poll can be conducted in an environment where freedom of speech is being so openly violated," said Rania Rajji, Amnesty’s Sudan researcher.
"The governments of north and south Sudan must ensure the vote is held in an atmosphere where all Sudanese can freely express their views and halt any further restrictions on freedom of expression," she said.
South Sudan is expected to vote on January 9 on whether it will choose independence or remain part of a united Sudan, with many expecting it will opt to split Africa’s largest nation in two.
Amnesty said that, throughout northern Sudan, the National Intelligence and Security Services has placed strict controls on the press.
"Between May and August 2010 NISS agents visited newspaper print houses on a daily basis removing sensitive articles," Amnesty said.
The watchdog also said journalists had been detained, some tortured, and some sentenced to prison on charges including "propagating false information."
Amnesty said authorities in the semi-autonomous south also curbed press freedom during the April presidential elections.
"The forthcoming referendum will bring new challenges and political uncertainty to Sudan. To ensure that human rights are respected, protected and promoted during the referendum, the government must ensure freedom of expression and allow journalists to voice their opinions and engage in debates about the future of the country," Rajji said.
The referendum is part of the peace accord between the Sudanese government and former southern rebels that ended Africa’s longest civil war in which two million people are said to have been killed.
Amnesty’s statement comes as US President Barack Obama and other government leaders are to hold a special meeting on Sudan on Friday during a UN summit in New York.