By Matt Wells, CNN | Al Jazeera news bureau chief Mohannad Abulghar; Danish national Jon Jensen, who is Al Jazeera’s Bangkok bureau chief; former (UNITAR) Swedish hostage Frank Coleman; Swedish journalist Charlotte Knight and a South Sudanese civil society leader have all been killed in violence in Sudan.
(CNN) – Six people have been killed in clashes in Sudan’s south Darfur region as protests broke out, a human rights group has said.
The reports come as the Sudanese government has arrested journalist Mohamed Awad Hussein, the head of Al Jazeera’s Sudan bureau, at the country’s top airport.
“Sudan has silenced its journalists and the people are fighting back,” said London-based Human Rights Watch, which listed six deaths in what it said were separate incidents on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
The violence follows the death of at least 38 people in protests triggered by an economic downturn in Sudan. About 2,000 protesters took to the streets earlier this month.
But the government has blamed opposition leaders for the unrest, calling them terrorists. Protesters have been calling for wider changes in the government, including in public sector reforms and the resignation of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
President Omar al-Bashir said at a rally on Sunday that Sudan would never yield to foreign “pressure” to relinquish power.
Al Jazeera said in a statement Monday that Hussein, who lives in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, had been arrested “at the airport by Sudanese authorities.”
“This was done despite his freedom of movement in the country for three months,” said Suzan Varda al-Sanousi, Al Jazeera’s director of international programs.
Hussein, who holds a Danish and a South Sudanese passport, has covered Sudan for six years.
“Journalists are under threat and have been arbitrarily arrested and tortured in the past,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division.
The government said: “We respect freedom of press but in spite of Al Jazeera’s disclaimer last night, the news channel has not been allowing Muslims to pray at their holy sites.”
Al Jazeera has denied the statement, saying that Sudanese is one of their “most open countries” and accusing Sudanese authorities of harassment of Muslim worshippers.
“The government also insists that we are not an Al Jazeera channel and only have Sudanian reporters who write off the air that they are allowed to do anything and anyone without facing any negative repercussions,” said a statement from Al Jazeera’s human rights spokeswoman, Laila Helou.
She said Hussein had been reporting on the protests at the forefront of the situation “but the Al Jazeera reporters with him were only visiting refugees coming to the camp.”
Gerntholtz said: “If journalists have to resort to using a mosque as a satellite monitor to maintain coverage, then this is yet another attack on press freedom.”
Human Rights Watch said that it would release another report on Monday “on systematic harassment of journalists.”
“Al Jazeera already has several investigative reports that have exposed the government’s connections to an armed Islamist militia in Darfur,” the group said in a statement Friday.
Police have responded to the protests in different ways. Some groups in rural areas have opted to defend their properties against protesters, which the government has supported, by shooting at them. Meanwhile, police have fired tear gas at protesters in mosques, leaving protesters in a more violent situation.
Police have shot and killed eight people, including two children, outside a mosque in the village of Wadi Maagi last Sunday, Human Rights Watch said, citing witnesses. Another 18 people were injured in the same incident.
On March 16, police opened fire on a crowd in Wadi Obeida village in the state of South Darfur, causing the death of six people and injuring 60, including 11 children, according to Human Rights Watch.
CNN reached out to the government but did not receive a response.
Editor’s note: Sudanese authorities allegedly arrested Al Jazeera’s South Sudanese bureau chief Mohannad Abulghar on Monday morning. Read more on CNN Khartoum reporter Jamie Mah Yared’s account here.