South Sudan continues custom of beating and jailing reporters
JUBA, South Sudan — Harassment, arbitrary detention and beatings come with the turf for journalists in South Sudan who dare to question the government’s actions, expose corruption or report the opposition’s point of view.
An atmosphere of intimidation has some reporters worried that Africa’s newest nation is replicating the intolerance for a free press that is pervasive in Sudan, the nation South Sudan officially separated from on July 9.
Nhial Bol, the editor of the Citizen newspaper, regularly faces death threats. He was arrested three times in the past four years, during a transition period under an interim government that included many of the same officials with the new administration.
He said it was no coincidence that each arrest followed a Citizen report on corruption in the government. In February, police raided the newspaper’s office in the capital, Juba, and ordered its journalists not to write about misconduct by the South Sudan armed forces.
Mr. Bol was part of the panel that helped draft media-freedom legislation for South Sudan. The legislation has yet to become law.
“Nhial Bol has been threatened with death, and he is a member of the committee that is forming the law. That’s the irony,” said Edmund Yakani, program coordinator at the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization in Juba.
“He is on a blacklist because they feel this is a guy campaigning for a free press,” he added.
Sudan suffered two decades of north-south civil war that left more than 2 million dead and ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) spent much of this time in the bush fighting troops loyal to the north. Now the SPLM is the ruling party across the south.
Mr. Bol attributes the government’s intolerance to criticism to the time officials spent in a guerrilla war.
“There is no system of accountability in the bush, so when you seek accountability from the government, it sounds very strange to them,” he said.
Ambroise Pierre, the Paris-based head of the Africa desk at Reporters Without Borders, said the detention and harassment of journalists in the south is a cultural trait that has carried over from the north.
“I don’t think this will change overnight,” he said in a phone interview.
Journalists in the south say the government has zero tolerance for publications that carry the opinions of the opposition.
Earlier this month, the Juba Post reported that military intelligence agents detained and beat opposition leader Onyoti Nyikwech Adigo.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.