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Rights groups urge South Sudan authorities to free two activists

May 4, 2018 (NAIROBI) - Delays in peace talks originally scheduled for 26 April, 2018, should not excuse ongoing detentions and inaction on enforced disappearances, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said.

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SPLM (IO) deputy chairman for justice and human rights affairs, Samuel Dong Luak, pictured after his return from hospital, Nairobi, October 13, 2015 (ST Photo)

In a statement, the two human right bodies said South Sudan’s leaders should act immediately to impartially investigate the enforced disappearances of two men, and release or charge everyone in their custody who has been arbitrarily detained.

“South Sudanese leaders should demonstrate their commitment to basic human rights and take concrete action on enforced disappearances and unlawful detention,” said Jehanne Henry, a team leader in Human Rights Watch’s Africa division.

“They should investigate the shocking forced disappearance of two prominent men and make good on their pledges to release wrongfully held political detainees,” he added.

Dong Samuel Luak, one of the forcibly disappeared men, is a human rights lawyer and outspoken critic of the government who had refugee status in Kenya. Aggrey Idri, also a critic, was a member of the armed opposition loyal to the country’s former first vice-president, Riek Machar.

The two men were reportedly abducted from the streets of Nairobi, Kenya on January 23 and 24, 2017, respectively.

On January 27, 2017, a Kenyan court ruled against their deportation to South Sudan. However, credible sources told both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that they had seen Luak and Idri in National Security Service detention in Juba on January 25 and 26.

The men were then removed from the facility on January 27 to an unknown location. Their abduction is widely viewed as the result of collusion between South Sudan and Kenya, but both governments have denied having custody of the men, or knowledge of their whereabouts.

The disappearances of Luak and Idri are part of a larger pattern by the South Sudan government to silence its critics by harassing, intimidating, arbitrarily detaining, and forcibly disappearing them, the two groups said.

Both organizations have continuously documented how government agents arbitrarily arrest and detain perceived opponents in official and unofficial national security and military detention facilities across the country.

“South Sudanese authorities continue to show their total disregard for human life and dignity by appearing to condone or turn a blind eye to unlawful detentions and enforced disappearances,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and Great Lakes.

He added, “They must take concrete steps to promptly, effectively and impartially investigate the disappearances of Dong Luak and Aggrey Idri, and charge, or release all remaining political detainees in line with South Sudan’s domestic and international legal obligations.

In November 2016, they said, Kenyan authorities unlawfully deported the former opposition spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, from Nairobi to South Sudan, despite the fact that he had refugee status. He has been sentence to death by the High Court.

(ST)