Two South Sudanese independent journalists have been imprisoned since last week over a column critical of President Salva Kiir, according to local journalists and news reports.
On November 1, South Sudan National Security Services (NSS) agents in the temporary capital of Juba arrested Peter Ngor, editor of the private daily Destiny, and ordered the indefinite suspension of his newspaper for running an October 26 opinion article by columnist Dengdit Ayok, news reports said. The article, titled “Let Me Say So,” criticized the president for allowing his daughter to marry an Ethiopian national and accused him of “staining his patriotism,” news reports said.
In an official letter sent to Destiny, NSS Director Gen. Akol Koor accused the newspaper of non-adherence to “the media code of conduct and professional ethics,” and of publishing “illicit news” that was defamatory, inciting, and invading the privacy of personalities. NSS agents arrested Ayok on Saturday.
Neither journalist has had access to a lawyer or been officially charged, local journalists told CPJ.
“It’s alarming to see the world’s newest nation already arresting journalists under vaguely worded accusations,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We call on the authorities to release the journalists and lift the ban on the newspaper.”
The two journalists were held in a security detention center in the Jebel Market area in Juba, but were moved today to an undisclosed location, local journalists told CPJ. Before the paper was shut down, its staff published an apology to the First Family for the comments in the article, and suspended Ayok for a month, said Abraham Malek, senior editor with the Arabic-language daily sister publication, Al-Masier.
Information Minister Benjamin Marial told CPJ that he was unaware of the detentions and said his office would look into the matter. South Sudan’s constitution dictates that a suspect may not be held for more than 24 hours if not released on bond or produced in court.
In September, CPJ released a report on South Sudan that described the concerns voiced by journalists in the world’s newest nation. After decades of armed struggle for independence, they said, “the former rebels turned government officials still harbor a war mentality that is unaccustomed to criticism, and they are not prepared to extend the freedoms they fought hard to attain.”