December 6, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudanese political commentator, Isaiah Ding Abraham Chan Awuol, was shot dead in front of his house in Gudele, west of the capital Juba, early on Wednesday morning by unknown gunmen.
- South Sudanese political commentator, Isaiah Ding Abraham Chan Awuol, who was shot dead by unknown gunmen in front of his house in Juba, early on the morning of Wednesday 5 December 2012 (Photo: Hayat)
Family and friends say they had expected that one day he would be killed due to his criticism’s of the government in Sudan Tribune and other publications, under the pen name, Isaiah Abraham.
Press freedom group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said Wednesday that South Sudan should thoroughly investigate the murder, identify the motive behind Isaiah’s death, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
South Sudan’s police have announced that a team of security experts will conduct a “quick investigation” to trace those behind the "unfortunate" killing.
Inspector General of South Sudan Police, General Acuil Tito, told reporters on Wednesday that the security services "do not know who were involved. As [a] government, the ministry has decided to deploy police forces to the scene to help in the conduct of first round of investigation.”
The exact time Isaiah was shot varies between midnight and 4 am, according to different reports.
CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes said Wednesday: "By getting to the bottom of this murder and bringing the perpetrators to justice, authorities in South Sudan can demonstrate their commitment to the rule of law and freedom of expression."
Police spokesman, James Monday Enocka, told Sudan Tribune that no arrests have been made but efforts to trace out the assailants are underway.
“The property in the house is intact [and] the police want to study if he has been targeted or a kind of assassination. This will be proved [through] investigation,” Enocka said in a phone interview.
Police said he was alone in the house, when neighbors heard a gunshot and then found him dead outside his compound. CPJ report that Isaiah’s mobile phone was taken in the incident.
Executive Director of the South Sudan Human Rights Society For Advocacy (SSHURSA) released a statement on Thursday describing Isaiah’s death as a black day for human rights in South Sudan.
Before his death, Isaiah told Sudan Tribune that on 21 November members of South Sudan’s security services showed him a printed copy of an article he had written, in which he had called for the resignation of President Salva Kiir.
In September Kiir signed a Cooperation Agreement with Sudan after months of negotiations. The two sides agreed to created a border buffer zone, how much South Sudan would pay to export its crude, and to provide citizens basic freedoms in each country. However, Isaiah argued, the deal brought little benefit to the people of South Sudan.
On November 28 Sudan Tribune published his last commentary - "Khartoum though has a case must give peace a chance" - in which he said that South Sudan’s relationship with Sudanese rebels groups should not ruin Juba’s relationship with Sudan.
South Sudan denies backing its former comrades the SPLM-North, who have been fighting Khartoum in Blue Nile and South Kordofan since last year. But security issues have severely hindered relations since partition 16 months ago.
Relatives and friends told Sudan Tribune in series of interviews that they always suspected Isaiah would one day be assassinated for his writings, which are often critical of South Sudan’s SPLM-led government.
Another of Isaiah’s relatives said that he had long complained of receiving anonymous telephone calls and text messages, threatening to kill him if he does not stop writing about the government.
"I knew he would one day be assassinated for his writings and I told him to stop but he said he would prefer to die than to stop writing", the relative told Sudan Tribune.
Isaiah is said to have told his relatives in October: "This government can never adjust itself if we stop writing. I know they do not care about what we write but there will come a time they will see the need to change".
The writer’s death comes after a number of civil society activists have been targeted in the capital for highlighting corruption and human rights abuses in young nation.
Many members of civil society groups blame South Sudan’s security apparatus for the attacks, which, this year, have seen two prominent activists kidnapped and badly beaten over a period of days.
Journalists in South Sudan’s fledgling media industry are shocked by Isaiah’s death and say that as one of South Sudan’s most outspoken political commentators, his writings had been irritating the government.
Civil society activists and many journalists are concerned that the some parts of the SPLA and SPLM, do not wish to accord South Sudanese the freedoms of expression, democracy and human rights that were the among the key aims of the civil war which culminated in South Sudan’s independence in July 2011.
A CPJ report last year found that "local journalists fear the former rebels turned government officials still harbor a war mentality that is unaccustomed to criticism, and that they are not prepared to extend the freedoms they fought hard to attain."
Isaiah, himself, fought in the SPLA during the civil war.
During the second Sudanese civil war, Isaiah Ding Abraham Chan Awuol served as military and political commissar in the Tiger battalion of the SPLA achieving the rank of a Shield Seven Captain.
He was later was promoted to be Major but decided to leave the former rebel group, which is now South Sudan’s official army, after the 2005 peace deal that granted the region a decree of autonomy and the 2011 self-determination plebiscite that led to secession.
Friends say that he chose to leave the military so he would be freer to speak his mind but say that Isaiah was neither liberal nor conservative but a moderate.
Before it was closed earlier this year, Isaiah, was an opinion writer with the Destiny Newspaper. As well as Sudan Tribune his comment pieces were also published on the Gurtong and SudaneseOnline websites.
Isaiah held a BA in business administration from Day Star University and a masters degree from Nairobi University, Kenya.
At the time of his death, he was serving in South Sudan’s government as a director for administration and finance in the Employees Justice Chamber, working under Dr. Dhieu Mathok Diing Wol, who also occasional contributes opinion pieces to Sudan Tribune.
Isaiah was ordained as a pastor in Nairobi in 1998, and served for a time as a deacon in the Narus area of Eastern Equatoria. His mother was also a pastor and is currently serving in Yirol West County of Lakes State. Isaiah’s father was a local chief from Pawel Payam [district] in Kongor, Twic East County, of South Sudan’s eastern Jonglei State, where he was born.
Isaiah is survived by two wives and five children. Three children and one wife live in Egypt. He had been due to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, on Thursday to visit his other wife and.two other children on Thursday.
According to a personal friend of Isaiah: "He was a great thinker who hardly argues with people. He was always quiet and liked being alone."