By Bangasi Joseph Bakosoro
On 22 December 2015, at around 12pm, I received a call from the National Security Service (NSS) summoning me to their headquarters for a meeting. I drove to the office and, when I arrived, Akol Kuur, the Director General of internal security, informed me that I would be detained. I spent the next four months and five days living in a cell on the top floor of a two-story prison, located in the back left corner of the NSS Jebel headquarters. I was never charged or presented in court. I was released on 27 April 2016, but left over 30 other men behind, many of whom are still there. I write this public appeal on their behalf.
The men I lived with at the NSS were mostly from the Equatorias and Western Bahr el Ghazal and were arrested arbitrarily at different times and places in 2014 and 2015. I interacted with them one by one and asked them why they were there, but most did not know. They were all suspected of supporting the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) in one way or another—the illiterate warden in charge of the prison called us all “political detainees.”
I believe that some of them are as innocent as any villager who does not even know what government is. A person who was picked from a remote village, who cannot speak English or Arabic, who was not caught with gun in hand, who had never before even seen Juba, how can such a person be a “political detainee”?
Even if some were IO supporters, none among them had been charged or taken to court. In reality, many of them are there because they happened to offend someone who has a friend in the NSS. I can confirm that there is nepotism, sectarianism and discrimination in the detention process.
I am afraid to think of how many of my fellow detainees might have now died. We were fed beans with posho, sometimes rice, sometimes lentils, every day and only once a day. The prison building was like a container made of concrete—there were no windows, and no ventilation. Some nights, they would lock the metal doors and we would suffocate.
The warden had a very terrible leather whip—one lash would make you bleed. When new detainees arrived, I heard them cry. Some nights, detainees would be taken away and not brought back. One detainee tried to hang himself with his sheet in the toilet because the frustration of being arbitrarily detained was too much. Some suffered from high blood pressure or had other illnesses, but did not receive treatment. In that prison, I witnessed a lot of things that I still can’t understand.
When the Peace Agreement was signed between the South Sudan government and the IO in August 2015, these young men thought they were going to be released as the agreement called for the release of all those “detained in relation to the conflict.” They all waited. But even after the IO arrived in Juba in April 2016 to form the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU), these prisoners were not freed.
The day of my release, Akol Kuur and his team warned me to keep quiet and not talk too much, because they would be following me. I told them that I was not taught to lie; that I cannot keep quiet when I see things going wrong.
This is why I am appealing to the government of South Sudan to either release these young men in detention or charge them and take them to a court of law so that justice is seen to be done. I urge Taban Deng to insist on the release of the detainees whose liberty has been taken away in the name of IO.
The author is a former Governor of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state