July 22, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan’s Vice President, Riek Machar, has strongly condemned the kidnapping and torture of a leading anti-corruption activist, saying those responsible for the crime should be brought to book as soon as possible.
- Riek Machar (Reuters)
Deng Athuai, the chairman of the South Sudan Civil Society Alliance, was kidnapped and held for three days by persons unknown, after he led a campaign demanding that the government released the names of 75 corrupt senior officials, whom the President of the Republic had written to and asked to return $4 billion of stolen money.
Athuai was lured into a car on the evening of Wednesday, 4 July near his residence, blindfolded and driven for several kilometres outside the capital, Juba, to a forest area where he was tied inside a sack and severely beaten until he lost consciousness.
After three days of interrogation, he managed to escape and was found by passing soldiers who heard him screaming inside the sack beside the Juba-Bor road and brought him to Juba Teaching Hospital.
Speaking in Juba on Saturday to thousands of people gathered for a thanksgiving prayer organised by the church in the name of Deng Athuai, Vice President, Riek Machar, said those who nearly killed Athuai were trying to intimidate and blackmail anti-corruption and human rights activists in the country.
Machar said Athuai had done no wrong in campaigning for action against corrupt officials, adding that the anti-corruption activist was supporting the statement and letter of the President, as well as the resolution of the national parliament on the matter.
The parliament has passed a resolution calling on the president to suspend all officials who received a letter from him suspecting them of corruption.
The country must learn to apply the rule of law and respect human rights, Machar said, adding that if anybody felt that Athuai did something wrong by campaigning against corruption he or she should have taken him to court.
Athuai, who was present during the thanksgiving prayer, told the large crowd that God spared his life because he had done nothing wrong and announced that he had forgiven those who nearly killed him.
Awut Deng Acuil, a member of parliament and one of the senior officials who received the letter on corruption from the President, decried the attempt on the life of Deng Athuai, and appealed to the government to quickly bring to book those responsible for the crime.
Acuil and the former minister of petroleum in Khartoum, Lual Deng, were the only two among the more than 75 officials who publicly announced that they received the confidential letter from the President and asked the rest of their colleagues to reveal their identities.
Machar informed the gathering that investigations were going on and that a final report would soon be published.
The South Sudanese vice-president also called on the churches in the country to always condemn corruption and educate people about how bad it is during their gatherings and prayers.
Since Kiir and Machar’s SPLM came to power in South Sudan, as part of a peace deal in 2005, no official has been prosecuted for corruption despite an estimated $4 billion going missing. This figure is around one third of all the oil revenue received in the last seven years.
In his letter to senior officials Kiir said that senior members of the government had become greedy in power and forgotten the ideals that the former rebels fought for. Addressing corruption was key to South Sudan’s international credibility, Kiir said in the letter.