June 11, 2014 (JUBA) – The management of South Sudan’s leading Arabic newspaper Al Masir has announced it would shut down its operations indefinitely amid claims after the government had threatened to arrest its editors and managing director over the paper’s senior management faced threats over its alleged links to rebel leader Riek Machar.
The paper’s management made the announcement on Tuesday, but there remain differing accounts over what led to the decision.
Some sources claimed an alleged internal rift among the Al Masir’s shareholders over the allocation and ownership of its shares was behind the decision.
However, others alleged the paper’s editors and managing director had been threatened with arrest over their connections to the opposition leader.
Sudan Tribune understands the dispute may be related to the paper’s connection to politician and majority shareholder Dhieu Mathok, who aligned himself with Machar at the start of the conflict and went on to become one of the leading figures of the rebel delegation taking part in peace negotiations in Addis Ababa.
It has been claimed that the government wanted the paper shut down as it did not want to see Al Masir become a financing tool for Mathok’s rebel activities.
However, in comments to Sudan Tribune senior management have downplayed Mathok’s role at the paper.
“This is what I have said time and again that South Sudan under the current system will never progress, because there are people who do not differentiate between institutions and individuals,” an executive member of the management board of directors told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.
“Dr Dhieu was just a shareholder like any other members. He does not decide on the contents of the paper. The paper has a management which controls the day to day activities, including administrative issues and the running of it, in accordance with the managerial directives and policies,” he added.
One source claimed that management had taken the decision to deny the membership of other stakeholders after receiving “death threats” from government agents.
“It was painful decision taken out of the pressure and fear of warnings and death threats. Some of us have been receiving warnings from the government to kill us, if we do not accept to withdraw the share of the majority shareholder Dr Dhieu Mathok. They say how can you operate an establishment with the connection to someone who has joined the rebellion of Riek Machar,” the source claimed.
However, board chairman Mathiang Cirilo told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday that the decision was taken by the management without any external pressure.
“There was no pressure. It was our own decision – [a] management decision to resolve internal issues. We will now launch another newspaper next Friday. It is called Al Mogap,” Cirilo said without providing further details.
According to Cirilo, the new paper will have new shareholders, removing Dhieu Mathok and managing director Wol Mathok.
Cirilo himself will be a shareholder, with other members including Mariak Albino, Gabriel Joseph Chidar and Atem Simon to have a 25% stake each.
However, another source with direct knowledge of the events surrounding the decision has disputed Cirilo’s version of events, saying it was implemented after a two-week ultimatum given by the government in April to shut down operations or face the consequences.
“The management decided to close after long discussions and attempts to persuade the government but which did not materialise because they (government) had closed their minds and pushed with the demands that the management must make a decision to remove Dhieu Mathok from the establishment [or] else it would take a decision,” he said
The source alleges that under the ultimatum management were given three options: to sell the paper to fund the majority shareholder, convince him to give his shares to someone else and move away from the establishment or close down the paper indefinitely.
“We shared this with Dr Dhieu, but he did not accept any of the suggestions so we decided to terminate our membership in the establishment and agreed to form the new one,” the source said.
Sudan Tribune understands that Mathok, who previously headed the employees’ Justice Department, owned a 90% stake in the paper.