​South Sudanese journalists face threats as political violence escalates

Amid the return of conflict in South Sudan, media veteran and former BBC correspondent Alfred Taban was arrested on July 16 by National Security Service (NSS) agents.

In an editorial for the Juba Monitor, where he is editor-in-chief, Taban had called for the removal of President Salava Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar.

On July 22, Taban was charged with “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to Southern Sudan” and “undermining the authority of or insulting the president”. Journalists and human rights advocates in the region called for authorities to release Taban and drop all charges against him, with many using the hashtag #FreeAlfredTaban. Taban was released on bail on July 30.

Taban was once a member of the South Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, the entity that has now detained him.

In March this year, Taban highlighted the paradox in a conversation with online newspaper The Intercept: “The same people — the leaders — who would have me arrested today are the people I was arrested with [back then]. It’s as if we struggled for nothing.”

One reporter said Taban is not the only journalist who has been detained by the NSS and held without charge. “You should also know that we have [another] journalist inside for almost two years — George Livio.”

The international community has demanded that the South Sudanese authorities either charge those who’ve been detained or release them.

In August last year, a young journalist named Moi Peter Julius was shot in the back with a pistol at close range by an “unknown gunman”.

The killing took place shortly after Kiir had threatened to kill journalists for reporting “against the country”. A few days later, the president’s spokesperson withdrew the statement, saying that the president did not mean it “that way.”

The media and civil society have long struggled to survive in Sudan and South Sudan, but the conflict that erupted in 2013 has made working in media more dangerous.

In 2014, officials banned journalists from citing political or militant sources opposing the government.

Although South Sudan has passed Bills on public broadcasting and media oversight authority to ensure citizens’ access to information, these have not been implemented. But authorities have implemented the National Security Service Act, which Amnesty International described as follows: “The NSS Act of 2014 grants the NSS sweeping powers to arrest and detain, without ensuring adequate judicial oversight or safeguards against abuse of these powers … The law effectively gives carte blanche to the NSS to continue and extend its longstanding pattern of arbitrary detention, with total impunity.” — Globalvoices.org

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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Pernille Baerendtsen
Pernille Baerendtsen works from #Copenhagen #Belgrade #Africa. Journalist, MA African Studies, Co-Curator of 'Instagramming #EastAfrica' for @AfricanMuseum #Belgrade. Also @thekangabook @globalvoicesonline @timbuktufonden Pernille Baerendtsen has over 7099 followers on Twitter.

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