August 18, 2014 (JUBA) – The chairperson for the Union of Journalists in South Sudan (UJOSS) has expressed concerns over the level of crackdown on the media houses, describing the act as an attack on their work, and urged government to protect and support journalists.
- Nhial Bol Aken, The Citizen’s editor-in-chief, in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, on 12 December 2010 (ST)
Oliver Modi, said cases of violent acts against journalists have drastically increased since political differences within the leadership of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) led to conflict that hit the new nation late last year.
“If you go by the constitution, you find that the government is not against the media. It indeed recognises the role of the media but practically, especially if you follow the developments that take place, you will find that the media is under attack”, Modi said Monday.
He said the weekend’s arrest of Bakhita radio’s news editor and the subsequent closure of the station was an “act indicative of individuals going against the constitution”.
“As at this moment, the news editor remains in detention and the radio is closed. I don’t think this is how it should have been handled. There are better ways to have handled it, because journalists are like members of any other institutions. They can make mistakes but they can be addressed through appropriate approaches and channels,” argued Modi.
He said courts or other means could be used by the government to address the issues.
“I think the intention is to force them out of their work or they want the journalists to report in their favour, which is unacceptable. We are not here to work according to the interest of individuals in the government,” stressed the UJOSS chairperson.
“We are for the public. This is exactly what the journalists do. They try to balance their stories by reaching out to all those involved in the issues they are covering,” he added.
Three years after its independence from Sudan, South Sudan appears intolerant to freedom of expression, harassing, arresting and even detaining journalists they consider critical of the regime in power.
Ngor Garang, a South Sudanese journalist said the action of the security personnel in which they closed down Bakhita and arrested its journalist was contrary to what the law says about their prescribed duties in the transitional constitution of the Republic of South Sudan.
“Clearly looking at what the transitional constitution of the republic of South Sudan says about the work of the security, you find that the constitutional role of the security is limited to collecting information, analysing it and then advice relevant institutions”, said Garang.
Citing article 159 (3) of the country’s transitional constitution, he said the national security should be professional and focus on its mandate of information gathering, analysis and advice to the relevant authorities.
“This is what is in the constitution, but going by the developments involving journalists in the country; you find that the agents go beyond constitutional limits to make arrest of journalists without constitutional basis. This tells me that the constitution was made for certain group of people in the country to comply with it and for certain group of people to behave above the law, including treating other fellow citizens the way they want”, said Garang.
Nhial Bol Aken, the Citizen newspaper’s chief editor said he was not surprised over the developments which befell Bakhita radio because government has no intention to abide by the constitution it supposed to uphold and protect.
“The government has no intention to abide by the constitution, if there are people who say so; they are putting it in their mouths. The fact that the media laws are not signed explains the whole intention of the government,” said Aken.
Bakhita radio director, Albino Tokwaro confirmed news editor remains in detention since Saturday, explaining that the senior management and leadership of Juba archdiocese and the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ conference secretariat were following up the case.
Officials at the ministry of information and the presidential spokesperson said they are making necessary contacts within their individual capacities to ensure it is resolved amicably.
“Let us not us magnify this issue. Let us find a way to work with those involved so that it is resolved amicably. I don’t want this to cause unnecessary tension; a senior presidential aide said in a separate interview on Monday, adding, “It can be resolved today or tomorrow.”
Paul Jacob, Acting director at the ministry of information and broadcasting said he had not by the time of contacting him received any official information from Bakhita radio.
“I do not want to talk about this because I have not been informed. I was not aware of what happened until you called on Friday”, said Jacob.
Anthony Sebit, a constitutional lawyer and a civil right activist, said the action of the government were unconstitutional and constitutes breach of fundamental rights.
Apart from the fact that the country does not until this moment have a security law passed, the arrest of the journalists and the closure of the radio are clear breach of the constitution, he argued.
“Clearly reading from the constitution, it states under article 24 (2) that all level of governments shall guarantee the freedom of the press and other media as shall be regulated by the law in a democratic society. This is what the law says. It does not allow security to make any arrest without legal processes and procedures being followed”, Sebit said on Monday.
But presidential spokesperson, Ateny Wek Ateny strongly defended the action of the security personnel, saying it was the policy of the government which mandates the security personnel to intervene when they see that certain act or conduct would compromise security of the country.
“Bakhita radio made a broadcast which portrays our forces as if they were the ones who carried out the attack. Our forces are in towns which are being attacked by the rebels. It is the rebels which launched the attack and our forces acted in self-defense. They did not go out as the report tries to imply. It actually tried to incite the public against the government by making our forces appear as if they do not want to respect the ceasefire agreement while the government has committed itself to bringing peace to this country”, presidential aide explained during an exclusive interview Monday.
Ateny confirmed that the management of the station had submitted an apology letter acknowledging the breach of guiding ethics and that the final decision would be made by the national security service.
“The decision to release the journalist is at the discretion of the security. By submitting an apology letter, they admit their guilt and subsequently waive any right they may have claimed”, he said.