“Sudans Post” gets blocked after receiving personal threats from NSS – transcript revealed

August 17, 2020

Sudans Post is a grass roots news media organization aiming to provide readers with an alternate depiction of events that occur in Sudan, South Sudan and East Africa.

After publishing a series of articles in June 2020 related to the Sudanese business women Achai Wiir, the newspaper started to receive threats from the National Security Services.

The Sudanese hosting provider “Suddhosting”, that hosted the site, was the first one approached to identify the owner of Sudans Post and was requested to remove articles from the website. The security services intimidated the hosting provider to shut down the company if the content was not removed immediately.

A few days later (June 11th), the editor of Sudans Post received two phone calls demanding to identify the author of the article and the immediate removal of the content. In the first call, the security services menaced the editor with physical detention within 72h. The second caller tried to arrange a face to face meeting with editor of Sudans Post. The caller claimed that he had important information to hand over to the newspaper and insisted in a face to face meeting instead of sending the material digital.

On June 12th, the days after the phone calls from the NSS, the website of Sudans Post became unreachable inside South Sudan.

Internet blocking of regime critical media in South Sudan has been in place for several years. Research by OONI, suggests that the media outlets Sudan Tribune and Radio Tamazuj, and independent blogs Nyamilepedia and Paanluel Wel, have been blocked since 2017. According to an interview with Michael Makuei Lueth, the Minister of Information and Government spokesman, in January 2019, there were no websites blocked in the country at that time. In the same interview Makuei [4min20s] states that “the problem is that the websites [those that are claimed to be blocked] are not registered and they operate from abroad and can not be controlled”

Transcript of phone calls

The Sudanese authorities called twice on June 11th to harass and threat the editor of Sudans Post. In agreement with the editor, Qurium has chosen to publish a transcript of the calls.

Call 1: A South Sudan security officer calls to the editor of Sudans Post, regarding an article they published about Achai Wiir’s investigation by NSS.

SP: I am sorry can you repeat?

Security officer: I said I am police and security officer Kuanten and there is something that you have published on Facebook that this businesswoman Achai Wiir is under arrest. I don’t know, can you please introduce yourself to me?

SP: Let me tell you something, I didn't post such thing on Facebook. I saw something like that a website had shared on social media but I didn’t write it myself. 

Security officer: But I came and got your phone number on the website. I made a research I didn't come to you without evidence that it is you who wrote it. But let me tell you this, you are a South Sudanese and behaving that way is not good. And this world is a small village, so can you please introduce yourself to me?

SP: Of course not. How can I introduce myself to you and I don't know you and you are talking to me on something that I don't have relation to?

Security officer: My friend I will come to you. Egypt is no far. We can come to you through our embassy and we have a police called Interpol. We will get you. I can write a report now and send it to the embassy and you can be arrested. But I am talking to you in a very good faith and also telling you to resolve the problem by identifying yourself. But if you don't want to identify yourself, no problem I know how to identify you and bring you through Interpol and this problem will escalate more than you think because you are writing something which is not true. 

SP: I am telling you that it is not me who wrote that and the person who put my name on Facebook or who gave you my name is mistaken. It is not me.

Security officer: Ok, but what I am requesting from you now is that you give me your name and then you will remain innocent until proven as the law says. Even now you are innocent so nothing proves you guilty until now.

SP: I don’t have any link to what you are talking about and I will not introduce myself to you. 

Security officer: Ok, please if you don’t want to identify yourself, be responsible for what will happen to you within the next 72 hours.  

SP: Ok thanks bye.

Call 2: A man, identifying himself as Malik, calls from Cairo. He wants to publish an opinion and wants to meet Sudans Post’s editor face to face.

SP: Hello
Malik: Yes hello how are you?
SP: I am fine who am I speaking to?
Malik: I am Malik.
SP: Ok Malik welcome
Malik: How are you?
SP: I am fine.
Malik: Are you the director and the manager of Sudans Post?
SP: No, I don't work there.
Malik: How, your phone number is written on the website?
SP: Which number? 
Malik: The number that I have used to call you.
SP: I don't understand anything.
Malik: (angrily) The Sudans Post website my friend. I have an opinion article that I want to publish and I got your phone number from a friend and he told me that you will publish my article. 
SP: Who is that? I don’t work there.
Malik: One of the journalists is the one who gave me the number. 
SP: No that person is mistaken and I don't work there. Check with other journalists and maybe they will give you the right phone number. 
Malik: And who are you?
SP: I am me, an ordinary person. 
Malik: Why are you afraid, I just want to know each other? I live in al Matariya.
SP: No sorry. We can't know each other on phone. You have called the wrong person so, it shouldn't be important to introduce each other.
Malik: Yes but I want to know your name, is there anything wrong with that? 
SP: No how can you ask my name when we don't know each other?
Malik: Anyway thank you and bye.

Sudans Post under Deep Packet Inspection

On June 12, Sudans Post became inaccessible in Juba. The error message “Connection reset by peer” after establishing a SSL connection suggests the presence of Deep Packet Inspection.

A partial block in Juba – access to the authorities

Sudans Post now joins Sudan Tribune, Radio Tamazuj, Nyamilepedia, and Paanluel Wel as news sites blocked in South Sudan. Surprisingly, Qurium can still see traffic coming from inside South Sudan reaching the blocked websites Paanluel Wel, Nyamilepedia and Sudans Post, which Qurium hosts.

When looking into the IP addresses that are able to reach the blocked sites, we can conclude that those belong to official buildings, ministries, the presidential building (aka J1) and the National Security building (aka Blue House). We also found that that a large volume of traffic was coming from an IP address behind a Sonicwall firewall in a UN World Food Program facility.

Bifrost – circumvention of the blocking

After the digital forensics investigation of Internet blocking in South Sudan, Qurium sees a worrying trend of blocking of media websites. Sudans Post is the latest website being blocked in Juba after receiving threats from the authorities. The blocking is done with no transparency or accountability, no measures to appeal, without any legal process and implemented silently by upstream providers.

Qurium believes that access to information is a key element for critical thinking and public education. The government of South Sudan is depriving its population from information, which is the reason why Qurium supports blocked media with circumvention capabilities.

To circumvent Internet blocking of legitimate news sites, human rights organizations and LGBTQI initiatives, Qurium has developed the mirroring service Bifrost. Bifrost creates live-mirrors of WordPress sites, and pushes the content to large cloud storage services like Google or Amazon, which are too expensive for governments to block. In the case of South Sudan, Qurium is mirroring the following news sites: