- Associated Press - Friday, April 15, 2016

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) - Amnesty International on Friday called for the release of 35 men the group says are being held illegally and without charge, sometimes for over a year, by South Sudan’s National Security Service. A government spokesman denied the allegations.

The arrested men include former state governor Joseph Bangasi Bakosoro, journalist George Livio Bahara and Leonzio Angole Onek, a dean at the University of Juba, the rights group said, noting that the 35 detainees represent “just a small fraction” of individuals who have been arbitrarily detained by the government.

Michael Makuei, spokesman for the South Sudanese government, described the allegations as “stories just created by people.”

“We have no political prisoners in South Sudan,” he told The Associated Press.

None of the detainees has had access to a lawyer, and many are held incommunicado from their families, Amnesty International said.

Some have been tortured at the NSS headquarters building in Juba, Amnesty’s South Sudan researcher Elizabeth Deng told AP.

“Torture, we believe, happens following initial arrest when people are being interrogated, and as punishment for people who break any internal rules,” said Deng.

The law grants the NSS broad powers to arrest and detain, but includes a provision that within 24 hours individuals should be presented before a court, “so NSS law itself is being violated,” she said.

There has been an increase in arbitrary detentions since South Sudan’s civil war broke out in 2013, with most detainees suspected to have links with rebel groups, she added.

South Sudan’s civil war broke out in December 2013 and continues despite a peace deal signed last year between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar.

Machar is expected to return to Juba next week to take up the post of vice president under Kiir, who in July 2013 fired Machar from the same post in a power struggle that later boiled over into a violent rebellion.

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