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South Sudan threatens to detain and take journalists to court

May 4, 2015 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, on Monday said his government will from now on detain and take to court journalists who report on issues authorities consider false or infringing on national security.

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South Sudan’s information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, speaks to reporters in Jonglei state capital Bor on 25 December 2014 (ST)

Speaking at a national conference to mark the World Press Freedom Day on Monday in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, Lueth, an outspoken controversial figure in government, said security agents have the legal right to arrest and present unprofessional journalists to detention and charge them in court.

“Up to now we have not taken any journalist to the court but we will do so,” said Lueth, the chief guest for the two-day event.

He said the government would now resort to taking journalists to court as it is a practice done worldwide. Overtimes, government’s security agents randomly detain journalists for publishing stories which the government feels unfavourable to its political and security stance, but release them thereafter without charges.

“We will do so [take reporters to court] because they are being taken to the court all over the world,” Lueth added.

“It is only in South Sudan where we have not taken anybody up to now. So if calling anybody [to national security office in Juba], and talking to him and setting him free is becoming a problem, then we will apply the law as it is,” he said, referring to penal code that says defamation could earn reporter twenty years in jail if proven guilty.

Minister Lueth has been known for his criticisms against the press, particularly threatening local journalists in the country on many occasions. Last year he also threatened to shut down the independent Miraya FM radio which is being run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

The minister warned media houses not to speak to officials of the opposition factions, particularly the rebel group led by the country’s former vice-president, Riek Machar, saying their messages were misleading the public.

Alfred Taban, the editor in chief of the daily Juba Monitor newspaper and the chairman of the Association of Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), said the conditions are already unfavorable for journalists.

“The conditions for reporters and media owners is changing from bad to worse every day,” he said, speaking at the same event on Monday.

The veteran journalist explained that security agents summon editors nearly on daily basis to caution them on what stories to shelf.

“Publishing those stories would mean endangering your newspaper,” he added.

Lueth however said journalists are not being targeted, explaining that they have the constitutional rights like any other citizens.

“The constitution talks of the rights of all the citizens and journalists are citizens. So whatever law applies, applies on them [journalists]. This does not apply to journalists only but it applies to all the citizens,” he said.

He further defended that the security agents were operating within the law by arresting journalists as required by security law.

Orgainised by AMDISS, UNESCO and other partners, the Monday event brought together reporters from across the ten states of South Sudan under the theme “Advocating for media safety, freedom of expression and gender equality in the media.”

Many participants however said the event which was meant for promoting freedom of the press and expression was instead polluted by the remarks of the government’s official who further presented a list of punishments awaiting the journalists in the young war-ravaged nation.

(ST)