Al-Jazeera Office Shut Down in Sudan

Sudanese authorities have closed the Khartoum office of the popular Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera (search) and detained its bureau chief for questioning, the government said Friday.

The Sudanese security authorities said the shutdown, carried out Thursday, was "to preserve the security, national interests and stability of the country."

They accused the channel of airing programs "filled with lies, weak analysis, biased reporting and selected pictures to serve (its interests)," according to a statement carried on SUNA, the official news agency.

The government said Al-Jazeera's office will remain closed until the network appoints "responsible persons" who will work with "impartiality and professionalism."

In Paris, the rights group Reporters Without Borders (search) condemned the closure and the detention of the bureau chief.

"We call on the security services to authorize the immediate reopening of Al-Jazeera's bureau in Khartoum and to stop censoring this TV network by preventing it from carrying news about Sudan," the group's secretary general, Robert Menard, said in a statement.

Bureau chief Islam Salih (search) was still in custody Friday evening, Al-Jazeera's editor-in-chief, Ibrahim Hilal (search), said.

Hilal called Salih "one of our ... most experienced correspondents," and denied the network's coverage is biased, saying "we cover the events as they are."

"It is not clear to us what is the real reason behind the objection to Al-Jazeera's coverage," Hilal said from Qatar, where the network is based. "Sudanese affairs have been making headlines recently, so maybe the sensitivity (of officials) has increased."

On Wednesday, Sudanese officers stormed Al-Jazeera's Khartoum office just before an interview with a leader of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (search), Hilal said. The officers took a transmission device and left.

"They pulled back when they saw a southern rebel leader, apparently so as not to come across as trying to prevent southerners from voicing their opinions," Hilal said.

Since 1983, Sudan's Muslim, Arab government and the animist and Christian southerners have been battling for land and the oil resources that straddle the north-south border.

The war has killed more than 2 million people through combat and attendant famine and disease, but there have been a series of cease-fires since October 2002.

Sudan has a history of suspending newspapers and detaining journalists. In August, President Omar el-Bashir (search) declared that state censorship of newspapers would be lifted. But press restrictions have remained in place.