August 18, 2014 (JUBA) – The management of the Catholic-owned Bakhita radio on Monday apologised to South Sudan national security officials and demanded the release of its news editor.
The move comes days after the station was closed for airing news in which the opposition claimed government forces attacked their positions in Unity and Jonglei states.
“When they [security agents] came, they couldn’t tell us what happened. When we interacted with them, they told us it is the news that we read in the morning,” Bakhita radio director, Albino Tokwaro told reporters in the capital, Juba.
“We narrated to them what actually happened and we apologized that it was a mistake. I said officer this is a first time this gentleman has done a mistake why don’t you forgive him,” he added.
Security agents were irked by remarks attributed to rebel spokesperson, Peter Riek Gew regarding Friday’s clashes, which the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) too confirmed.
South Sudan’s presidential spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny said Monday that the news in question blamed government troops for attacking rebel positions last Friday.
"Radio Bakhita’s editor made the public to believe that it was the government attacking the rebels, not [the] rebels attacking the government positions,” Ateny told Sudan Tribune by phone.
“The government is in towns and the attacks come from outside. So it was not the town moving to attack. That was the reason that he was detained,” he added.
According to Tokwaro, the news editor, David Ocen remains in custody while the station remains closed.
“We [South Sudanese] are still learning to be democratic so one has to be very careful when writing news. I think ethically, all the journalists should be able to work very correctly,” he said.
Oliver Modi Philip, the Union of South Sudan Journalists (UJOSS) chairperson, said the radio’s closure was "unconstitutional" and condemned it news editor’s arrest.
“The radio has many programs like health issues, entertaining and church services and closing it down means you are depriving South Sudanese the right to information and this is contrary to our laws,” Modi told Sudan Tribune by phone on Monday.
Meanwhile UNMISS has expressed concern over the closure of the Catholic-owned station.
"The Mission notes the increasing efforts to curtail operations of media houses and the work of journalists, covering the conflict in South Sudan, including the forced closure of Radio Bakhita and other impositions of restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the media," the mission said in a statement issued Monday.
"UNMISS calls on the government of South Sudan and the opposition forces to respect the freedom of information and freedom of expression," it added.
South Sudanese journalists are often arrested for reporting on security matters. Last month, a freelance reporter working for Weer Bei radio in Northern Bar El Ghazal state fled the capital, Aweil after authorities threatened to arrest him.