U.S. Moves to Aid Sudan Internet Access as Officials Shut Papers

The U.S. moved to improve Internet access in Sudan as the country’s authorities defended their closing of more than a dozen newspapers on national-security grounds.

The Treasury and Commerce departments announced on Tuesday in Washington that they will change federal regulations as of Wednesday to let U.S. citizens and companies export to Sudan personal communications hardware such as smartphones, satellite phones, computers and supporting software without needing individual export licenses.

“We believe this rule will make it easier for Sudanese to access these tools that will promote freedom of speech and allow Sudanese citizens to communicate more easily with each other and allow them to be more connected digitally to the global economy,” the State Department’s Special Envoy to Sudan Donald Booth said on a call with reporters.

Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service confiscated the print runs of 14 newspapers on Monday, according to the website of Ashorooq television channel, based in the capital, Khartoum. Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said Sudan’s Constitution and security law gives authorities the right to seize publications that fuel hatred or spread rumors, according to Ashorooq.

Sudan is ranked 174 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index for 2015.

Booth said that the U.S. made similar regulatory changes for export of communications hardware to Iran in 2013 and more recently to Cuba. The rule changes also cover security updates and antivirus software, Booth said.

“These changes are consistent with our commitment to promote freedom of expression through access to communications tools,” Booth said. “We hope that the actions will greatly facilitate the Sudanese people’s access to the software services and goods that will enable them to access and benefit from the open Internet,” he said.