KHARTOUM - The United States condemned Sudan's arbitrary detention of journalists Friday after an AFP reporter and two colleagues were arrested covering a street protest.
Abdelmoneim Abu Idris Ali of Agence France-Presse and at least two more journalists were taken away by authorities on Wednesday as they reported on a demonstration against rising food prices.
They have not been allowed contact with their families or employers and authorities say they are being held "for investigation" by Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
"We are aware of the detentions and are closely following the reports," US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
"We condemn the harassment, arbitrary detention and attacks on journalists in Sudan who are doing their jobs and exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression."
The United States has had difficult relations with Sudan, on which it once imposed several economic sanctions regimes over its alleged support for terrorism and brutality against the people of Darfur.
But last year US officials removed the last of the sanctions as part of a deliberate diplomatic engagement process.
Concerns remain, however, about the regime of Omar al-Bashir, who is under indictment by the International Criminal Court accused of ordering mass killings, rape and torture in the Darfur region.
"We remain deeply concerned about freedom of expression, including for members of the media, the closing of political space for all Sudanese, and Sudan's poor overall human rights record," Nauert said.
"We continue to press Sudan to improve its performance in these areas, and to ensure that those detained are treated humanely and fairly... and that they are allowed access to legal counsel and their families."
Idris Ali, a 51-year-old who has worked for AFP for nearly a decade, was covering protests Wednesday in the city of Omdurman, where riot police fired tear gas at some 200 protesters.
He was unreachable after the protest and authorities informed AFP the next day that he had been arrested along with two other journalists.
Authorities initially said Idris Ali would be released within hours but as of late Friday, more than 48 hours after he was detained, he was still being held.
"AFP management strongly condemns the arrest of Mr. Idris Ali and asks Sudanese authorities for his immediate release," the agency said.
- Food shortages -
Several protesters were also reported to have been detained at the demonstration.
Sporadic protests have erupted across Sudan after prices of food, notably bread, surged following a jump in the cost of flour due to a shortage of wheat.
Wednesday's rally was called by the main opposition Umma Party, a day after a similar demonstration organized by the Communist Party in Khartoum was broken up by police.
Authorities cracked down on similar protests in 2016, and rights groups say dozens were killed by security forces in 2013 protests.
Critics have long accused Khartoum of persecuting the media, with watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranking the country 174th out of 180 countries in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index.