July 2, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese government on Wednesday responded to a letter from media seeking clarification on reports that it was censoring public debate over a federal system of governance.
“Information minister Michael Makuei [Lueth] has responded to our letter today (Wednesday), clarifying that the government did not censure it,” Nhial Bol Akeen, editor-in-chief of The Citizen newspaper told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.
However, Akeen, pointed out that government agents had so far refused to lift current restrictions despite Lueth’s clarification.
After being warned by security officials not to publish Lueth’s response to the letter, Akeen contacted the minister, receiving personal assurances that he could go ahead and offering compensation should any newspapers be seized.
The letter, signed by editors from various media houses in the country’s capital, Juba, was sent to Lueth on Monday seeking clarification on the legality for the reported ban.
The move came after editors received verbal directives from security personnel to desist from publishing material related to federalism in the country.
The letter asked the basis on which “individuals purporting as government agents go around and issue verbal directives to editors not to publish any articles on the federalism debate”.
Despite the minister’s public assurances, security forces seized 15,000 copies of the English-language daily Juba Monitor on Wednesday and threatened to shut it down if it did not stop covering the federalism debate.
Editor-in-chief Alfred Taban slammed the actions of security officials as “unconstitutional” and urged the government to protect the country’s media industry against threats and intimidation.
Editors say they intend continue to give a platform to all sides to freely air their views, claiming any moves to stymie debate on the matter “violates the right of freedom of expression”.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny also denied the government had banned the media from reporting on public debate over federalism, claiming the president was quoted out of context.
“The debate about federalism or any system of governance is enshrined under the freedom of expression under Article 24 of the constitution, so we cannot curtail anybody’s freedom of speech about any system of governance they might want to discuss,” he said.
“The journalists might not be saying the truth because the president has not issued any order so far,” he added.
South Sudan’s rebel faction, which has been engaged in an armed struggle with the central government since mid-December last year, is strongly advocating in favour of federalism.
However, Ateny said president Salva Kiir is appealing for efforts at restoring peace to be prioritised first before engaging in debate on the country’s system of governance.
He says a referendum to decide the matter should be held once peace is attained and full stability is returned to the country.