Letters   |   South Sudan

Press must be able to work freely in South Sudan

May 22, 2013

His Excellency President Salva Kiir Mayardit
Office of the President, State House
Juba, South Sudan
Via email

Dear President Salva Kiir Mayardit,

We are writing to express our deep concern about the deteriorating state of press freedom in your country. In the past six months, CPJ has documented several cases of attacks, intimidation, and detention of journalists by security agents in South Sudan and we are concerned that this harassment has led to self-censorship and even exile among the local press corps. We urge you to use the power of your office to ensure that journalists are allowed to work freely without harassment and censure from state security officials.

In the past six months, CPJ has documented at least 12 cases of attacks, harassment, and detention of journalists in South Sudan. In all but two of the cases, security officials were the perpetrators. Security agents, including police, have routinely harassed, intimidated, and occasionally detained journalists.

The latest episode occurred on May 2, when Deputy Interior Minister Salva Mathok Gengdit ordered the unlawful detention of the chief and managing editors of the private daily Juba Monitor for publishing a statement that implicated him in the March murder of a traffic policeman, according to news reports. Gengdit denied the allegations, according to news reports. In early April, security agents arbitrarily detained and threatened a Miraya FM journalist in Malakal, and in January, security officials arrested seven journalists in an apparent attempt to stifle reporting on a violent crackdown on protesters in the city of Wau.

Local journalists have told CPJ that this official intimidation has caused them to censor themselves and, in some cases, even flee the country. In December 2012 and January 2013, two outspoken columnists, Zehariah Manyok and John Penn de Ngong, went into exile after receiving anonymous threats, according to news reports and CPJ research.

Mr. President, official threats and attacks against the press violate Article 24 of South Sudan's transitional constitution, which stipulates that "all levels of government shall guarantee the freedom of the press."

While it is encouraging that the Media Authority Bill, which was designed to provide the press with an independent regulator, was signed into law this week, the state must also address security concerns of journalists in South Sudan. In your New Year's address, you expressed concern about the cases of harassment, abuse, and arbitrary detention of members of the public who are critical of the government. In your statement, you called such actions "unacceptable" and disrespectful to those who fought for South Sudan's independence.

We urge you to ensure that security agents who continue to intimidate and censor the South Sudanese press face consequences up to and including criminal prosecution. Such a firm response to these violations will restore confidence among the local media and ensure that the freedoms for which your government fought will be upheld.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director


CC List:

H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the Republic of South Sudan

H.E. Riek Machar, Vice-President of the Republic of South Sudan

Barnaba Marial, Minister of Information of South Sudan

General Alison Manani Magaya, Minister of Interior of South Sudan

Atem Yak Atem, Deputy Minister of Information of South Sudan

Hanne-Marie Kaarstad, Norway Ambassador to South Sudan

Susan D. Page, U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan

Ian Hughes, U.K. Ambassador to South Sudan

Kees Van Baar, Netherlands Ambassador to South Sudan

Ariane Quentier, United Nations Mission in South Sudan Spokesperson

Joseph Karangwa, Head of Office, International Monetary Fund 

Monica Moore, USAID Deputy General Development Officer

Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union

Elizabeth Carriere, Head of DFID, South Sudan

Oliver Modi, Chairman of the Union of Journalists in South Sudan

Biel Boutrous, Chairperson of South Sudan Human Rights Society

Edmond Yakani, Chairperson of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation

David de Dau, Executive Director, Agency for Independent Media

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