By Ngor Arol Garang
October 1, 2011 (JUBA) - The editor in chief of The Citizen newspaper, Nhial Bol, was on arrested and briefly held by police on Friday before being released following his newspaper’s investigations into the business dealings of a Warrap state minister.
- Nhial Bol, editor in chief of The Citizen newspaper, narrates his arrest and detention during an interview with Sudan Tribune on 30 September in his Juba office. (Photo: Ngor Garang/ST)
South Sudan’s information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin Bil, on Friday told journalists at a press briefing that he was not aware that any journalist in the country had been arrested.
“I am not aware. Nobody has told me about it”, said Marial in a brief statement to the journalists gathered outside council of ministers for a weekly briefing.
Mary Ajoth Goc, a reporter from the English language daily said Bol was picked by police from The Citizen’s Juba office on Friday morning.
“They came and said they were looking for Nhial [Bol] and refused some of us when we wanted to accompany him", said Ajith.
Speaking to Sudan Tribune in his Juba office later on Friday Bol said he was picked at 9am by the police who held him briefly before he was released after the attorney general said he had not authorise his arrest.
He said the arrest was connected to a publication of an article about closure of offices belonging to Chinese oil company Tesco South Sudan Ltd. and subsequent arrests of its general manager by a Joseph Malek Arop a state minister from Warrap State.
Minister Arop has a 10 percent stake in the company, according to Bol, and "last week he went with his bodyguards and arrested the Chinese shareholders".
"The Chinese are saying that he has to pay his shares because he booked the shares and did not pay them."
Bol said that a reporter from the The Citizen took a photo of Arop on 23 September locking the company’s office and leaving with the key after talks between him and the company broke down.
"When our reporter called him to balance the story he started threatening the reporter that he will make him disappear in Juba”, explained Bol.
Bol said he called the minister into his office to explain what they were going to publish, producing a document about the incident from the ministry of foreign affairs, which is has also been sent to South Sudan’s president.
The document addressed to acting undersecretary in the ministry of foreign affairs explained the incident in its entirety and said the act of the minister was no longer a police case because it involves the arrest of foreign nationals. The company therefore wrote a letter to the ministry and gave a copy to the media including The Citizen.
“I am pleased to write to you this message to inform you that minister Joseph Malek Arop from Warrap State has arrested our General Manager of Chinese Oil Company in Juba, kicked out our Chinese employees and locked our office and took the key. Now the issue is not a police case because it involves foreign citizens. This action of our minister is a concern to the government of the republic of China, because we are responsible for the protection of their citizens who are working in the oil fields and their offices in Juba”, reads part of the paper seen by Sudan Tribune.
However minister Arop said that he had paid the money he owed and had merely locked the office and had not closed the company.
This is the fourth time Bol has been arrested since he established the newspaper in 2006. Journalists in South Sudan regularly complain that they are not allowed to work freely.
“It is becoming a habit these days that journalists are picked up and arrested by the powerful individual government officials and released without charges after spending long times in jails. This is not acceptable. The government needs to stop this practice”, says Ojja William Benjamin a freelance journalist from Eastern Equatoria State currently visiting Juba on Friday.
Benjamin said he is experiencing similar situation in his home county of Magwi, saying he has been detained thrice since the year 2011 began.
South Sudan on Friday denied t hat it had arrested journalists and had them without charge after media alliance and human rights activists on Friday protested against the arbitrary detention of members of the media including editors in chief and argued the government to stop the practice.
“I thought journalists in Juba were more safe those of us in the bush. Some of us in the states are arrested even for something they did not do because of being a journalist. Hearing the title alone by some local officials invite arrest I have been arrested thrice this year and released without charges”, explained Benjamin
“I am sometimes told not leave my house. Some of my colleagues have had press cards withdrawn and torn at our watch which is unacceptable and I thought this is a practice being experienced by journalists living outside the national capital”, he said claiming he was arrested for reporting existence of illegal taxation check points in most part of the state where he lives.
Mac Ajuei Panchol, another journalist from Bor, the capital of Jonglei state said in an interview with Sudan Tribune at the premises of the council of ministers that he was also experiencing restrictions. He said there are people creating conflict between the government and the media for their own personal interests, calling for intervention of the president and the minister of information.
“We call on our President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his minister of information Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin to ensure that the government of South Sudan allows and respect press freedom”, said Panchol.
He called on the government to create an environment of press freedom and take constitutional measures to protect journalists s well as human rights and community activists.