Since November 2, Sudan Tribune journalist Peter Ngor Arol Garang has been detained. Another journalist, Dengdit Ayok, has been detained since November 5. No charges have been filed against either man. But as they have both been held for more than 24 hours — reportedly in a prison near Jebel Marra — and no extension of their detainment has been sought in a South Sudan court, their detention is illegal. Amnesty International says that neither man has had access to legal council during their detention and that both are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.
Garang and Ayok also edited the daily Destiny which was shut down by South Sudan National Security Services (NSS). Destiny is the English-language version of Al-Misier, an Arabic-language publication that is based in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. The Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) has expressed grave concern about the closing of the newspaper as this occurred “without any recourse to ‘due process’ for handling press and broadcast complaints.” Garang’s and Ayok’s arrests have been attributed to an article in the Destiny newspaper in which Ayok criticized South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir for allowing his daughter to marry an Ethiopian man.
Reporters Without Borders has issued a statement calling for Garang’s and Ayok’s release:
“…the arrests highlight the difficulties of working as a journalist in South Sudan and the risks that media personnel run in this young country, in which no law protects them.”
’We call on the authorities to free Garang and Ayok without delay and to quickly pass laws that regulate the work of the media and protect journalists from arbitrary imprisonment of this kind.”
The Sudan Tribune has released a statement saying that, while not agreeing with opinions expressed in the Destiny newspaper, it “strongly defend[s] Ngor and Dengdit’s right to freedom of expression and the independence of the media.” Other organizations representing journalists and advocating for freedom of the press have issued similar statements. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes says that it has been “alarming to see the world’s newest nation already arresting journalists under vaguely worded accusations.”
Indeed, a September report by the Committee to Protect Journalists has found that journalists in Africa’s youngest nation are already fearing that “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.” On May 11, Mohammed Arkou of Sudan Radio Service was arrested for taking photos without the permission of the government. He was not in a military area when taking the photos yet was detained for three weeks.
South Sudan became the youngest nation in Africa on July 9 via a peace deal that put an end to years of civil war. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which is now South Sudan’s ruling party, called for individual freedoms, including freedom of expression and the media. But the detainment of Garang and Ayok raises concerns about the young country’s respect for such basic freedoms and human rights under a government still in transition from military rule.
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Photo taken in July in Juba by ant heap