October 7, 2013 (JUBA) – South Sudanese president Salva Kiir unexpectedly issued an executive order on Monday pardoning key opposition leaders and a number of former militia commanders.
- South Sudan president Salva Kiir (Reuters)
According to state-owned South Sudan Television (SSTV), those pardoned include Lam Akol, the leader of the main opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change (SPLM-DC) and Peter Abdel Rahaman Sule, who heads the United Democratic Front (UDF).
While Akol was accused of allegedly supporting a rebellion in his home state of Upper Nile to destabilise the country, Sule ran into trouble when he and nine others were arrested in November 2011 after they were accused of starting a rebellion in Western Equatoria state.
In a separate order, the president also extended an amnesty offer to militia leaders, including Gabriel Tanginye, Gatwech Dual, Mabor Dhol and Simon Gatwech Joak, who have in the past been accused of acting as agents and “mercenaries of Sudan”.
General Tanginye and his two colleagues have been under detention since April 2011 after his forces clashed with the South Sudanese army (SPLA) in Kaldak area.
It remains unclear what prompted the president’s decision, after he ignored several earlier appeals.
In a statement issued Tuesday, South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA) said it welcomed the president’s directive to release the detainees and congratulated him for “listening to the voices that call for justice”.
SSHURSA has strongly advocated for the release of key political figures, claiming they had been subjected to illegal military detention for more than three years without charges or a trial.
“This has been a violation of their rights to [a] fair and speedy trial as enshrined in the transitional constitution of South Sudan 2011”, its statement reads in part.
SSHURSA said the president’s decision meant justice had finally prevailed, adding that extended detention without charges or trial is inhuman and amounts to torture.
Meanwhile, the human right body has demanded that Kiir order an immediate trial for those allegedly responsible for the assassination of South Sudanese writer and blogger Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol, popularly known as lsaiah Abraham.
Abraham was killed in December last year by unknown assailants on the outskirts of Juba. His killers have yet to be prosecuted, despite their arrest.
The organisation has also called for the release of all nine men arrested along with Sule, urging military and security authorities to produce all those who have reported to have disappeared and remain in their custody.
“Much as I welcome the decision of the president to pardon those militia leaders, which is a sign of peace and harmony, I do not understand what crime has Lam Akol committed for him to be included”, said a citizen, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The president is being misled. Being in opposition does not amount to rebellion”, he added.
Simon Deng, a native of Jonglei based in Juba said he was still not aware of what charges Akol was being pardoned for.
“I have never heard what he was accused of. I thought he was only being criticised for staying in Khartoum. Is the pardon for having been self-exiled, or what? I do not understand. What really has [he] done? said Deng.
Akol, a former member of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), previously served as Sudan’s minister of foreign affairs from 2005 to October 2007 under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005.
In 2010, he unsuccessfully challenged Kiir for the presidency, garnering only 7% of votes in an election which he claimed was highly flawed in favour of the incumbent.