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Review and analysis of “My Painful Story”


The review and analysis of “My Painful Story” a text authored by James Gatdet Dak Lampuor, an innocence refugee and a press secretary of Riek Machar who was extruded from his residence by Kenyan security unwillingly and deported to South Sudan in November 2016

By Lul Gatkuoth Gatluak

This piece is the review of “My Painful Story” an autobiographical memoir written by James Gatdet Dak, a longtime press secretary of Dr. Riek Machar former Vice President, current chairperson of the SPLM/A-IO movement, and Vice President-designate according to September 12, 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement on Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan. James was a registered South Sudanese refugee, who was arrested at his residence in Nairobi Kenya on November 4, 2016 by Kenyan authority regarding the comment he had made on his Facebook page about a bitter dispute between Kenya and the United Nations’ former Secretary’ general Mr Ban-Ki moon when ki-Moon fired Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki, a Kenyan native, who was appointed as a commander of the United Nations’ forces in South Sudan. Ki-Moon appointed Ondieki in May of 2016 to replace Lieutenant General Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam of Ethiopia whose assignment was due to expire in June that year. Since taking the top United Nations Mission in South Sudan command, Ondieke leadership was not tested, until when the fierce fighting in Juba that involved helicopters, gunships and tanks had ignited.

After skirmishes, a report from the United Nations investigation found out that, Peacekeepers abandoned their posts and failed to protect civilians and foreign aid workers who plead for help in a nearby hotel during the renewed clashes between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar’s bodyguards in Juba on the period of July 8-11, 2016. When the issue of Ondieki replacement went viral and widely discussed on social media, James Gatdet like everybody else commented on his Facebook page and that comment was misjudged like he was applauded the dismissal of the said Kenyan Army General. Kenya was furious and immediately picked up James Gatdet from his home. It was an impulsive action which had widely been condemned by the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and most importantly, the majority of South Sudanese in all walks of life. Unfortunately, the above-mentioned organizations and individuals’ plead and clamorous, went through South Sudan government deaf ears. James spent two years in forced imprisonment, half of which in solitary confinement. While in prison, James was charged with treason and sentenced to death. His death sentence was reversed by the deal and released after a month and a half later. Few months following his released, James compiled his abduction, deportation to the native country he escaped from, and harsh imprisonment coupled with death sentence into “my painful Story.” Below is the review of this breathtaking book.

Initially, the first section of “My Painful Story” the introduction to be exact, had covered James’s decision of returning to Africa specifically to Sudan, which he described as volatile, torn by violence civil war and worse economic disparity between North and South, after living in the United States of America for nearly five years. Instead of enjoying the opportunities America life bring, as the United States has many life options, which individuals enjoy because they may not have them in their native countries, J. Gatdet decided to return to this economically and infrastructural imbalance society to participate in then, Southern Sudan liberation struggle for freedom.

Besides the reason of joining the liberation struggle, James also had the plan of finding his soul mate in Gambella-Ethiopia and settled in Addis Ababa. After a brief stay in Ethiopia, J. Gatdet was approached by Dr. Riek Machar who was then in Khartoum despite 1997 Peace Agreement between him and the Sudanese government; following the split of the movement between him and Dr. John Garang, to join him in Khartoum, as his residence phone number was given to Dr Riek by an American friend from the United States. James ticket was arranged by an American Christian woman who persuaded him to join Dr Riek in Sudan. He met this Christian woman in one of the Church services in Minnesota as she was an active member of the Church who interested of assisting Southern Sudanese and learn about their cultures and James volunteered to teach her Nuer language one of South Sudanese indigenous languages. After James agreed to her persuasion, he flew to Khartoum from Addis Ababa Ethiopia leaving his newlywed wife there.

On his arrival to Khartoum, James was welcomed and accommodated at a guest house where Dr Riek was also accommodated by the Sudanese government after the signing of 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement. It was James’s first time to visit Khartoum and began to interact with Dr Riek who wanted to learn about how South Sudanese are adjusting in their newly adopted country, the United States. A few months later, Dr Riek left Sudan and decided not to return to Khartoum, citing a violation of the Peace Agreement he had signed with Omar Al Basher. James who is left in Khartoum decided to leave Khartoum to Ethiopia and later proceeded to Kenya with his family in the year 2000. While in Nairobi, a dialogue of reuniting Riek and Garang factions began and that led to the merger of two movements in the year 2002 where Dr Riek was made 2nd deputy chairman after Salva Kiir deputized by Wani Igga and Garang remained the chairman of the newly reunited movement. The reunification opens the door for peace negotiation between the Sudan government and the SPLM/A which ended in the signing of the CPA on January 9, 2005.

In Nairobi, James was appointed information officer by Dr Riek a position he is interested in and later work with government-run radio called Radio Juba which later transformed and renamed South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC). After serving as a senior reporter and program producer as well as newsreader, the Radio administration dispatched James as Dr Riek office correspondent following the demise of John Garang in Helicopter crash, as the department of information learned James had previously worked for Dr Riek as a Radio correspondent back in Kenya.

When South Sudan became an independent country, Dr Riek appoint James as his press secretary, he was the first person to hold that post. After Dr Riek was removed from Vice Presidency position, James remained in his press secretary position until two weeks later when he was asked by the office of the President to vacate the position. He was given the reason that new coming Vice President, James Wani Igga has his own press secretary. J.Gatdet handed over his office including the car he was driving and resorted to freelance journalism. When the SPLM party internal differences reach violence stage in 2013, which resulted in the killing of many Nuer civilians from door to door, James was stranded in his house for three days. Luckily, he later escaped to the United Nations protection centre with his family and a few weeks later, he managed to proceed to Kenya. While in Kenya, James continues with the press secretary activities as Dr Riek and those who left Juba with him form a Resistance Movement, the SPLM/A-IO.

After the two warring parties signed the peace in August 2015, James went back to Juba with Dr Riek and later request a leave to Nairobi to deal with family issues. Then, on July 8, 2016, fighting erupted while the leaders were meeting in Presidential Palace known as J1. Dr Riek and his forces were pushed out from Juba to Congo, then Khartoum and finally South Africa where he was confined for two years and his position was given to Taban. James remained active in Nairobi defending SPLM/A-IO point of view up to November.

On November 2, 2016, eight Kenyan security and police officers came to his apartment around 3 PM aiming to abduct him and deport him to Juba. Although James tried to resist, he was forced out of the building like he was going to meet with the director of national intelligence when he entered one of officers’ three cars, the road was changed to police general headquarters. Officers who brought him to police headquarters began to leave, but one officer in the headquarters asked them for the charges they would record in their file about J. Gatdet. Shortly, one officer in plain cloth turned to James and told him, “You are under arrest.” James asked him, “What crime did he commit”? The officer replied by a question: “what was the last post on your Facebook account”? James told him “his last post was about the United Nations commander who happened to be Kenyan citizen and failed to protect civilians during the renewed fighting in Juba.”

After a while, four out of eight officers who picked James up from his home came back with three different new faces. They told James to get up and go with them. He was taken to airport departure building where James found many Somali nationals who were waiting to be deported back to Somalia. James asked one of them for phone and make a phone call to his wife, telling her that, “I am being deported to Juba.” When officers learned, James spoke to his family on phone, they grabbed him and took him to a different location where he could not have access to the phone. James pleads to them about his rights as a refugee and his being press secretary of the opposition leader which can put his life in danger, all pleas fell under the deaf ears.

In the morning, officers came back to let him board the plane. When a lady called the passengers to Juba, James was taken to the check-in desk and began to raise his case, saying, “I am a press secretary for Riek Machar, if I should be deported to Juba, my life will be in danger.” The pilot also saw James was unhappy, they told him to step back and officers took him back to the police station at the airport. While back in the police station, James learns his boss Dr Riek called Kenyan vice president William Ruto and Attorney General where he was promised James’s case must be looked into. His youngest brother also came to visit him. Dr Riek follows up phone calls were not picked up and two United Nations lawyers who rushed to the airport to stop the deportation were denied access to see James Gatdet. Then James departure was rebooked for afternoon flight the same day. Around 9 AM officers came and took him to the airport and put him in a room where he has to wait for boarding. He was plainly told, all arrangements are made with whoever must be relevant to ensure he arrives Juba that afternoon. He also was told, “They are going to handcuff him and carry him on board if he tried to resist.” James told them, he was not in the mood to resist anymore. James boarded the plane around 1:30 PM accompanied by two Kenyan officers who were holding his documents including his iPhone. They touched down at Juba international airport around 3:30 PM where he told himself not to think about any danger that might happen to him. He just maintain calmness. They matched to immigration office and Kenyan officers asked for whoever is the head of South Sudan immigration office at the airport. One South Sudanese officer told them to follow him. The South Sudanese officer led them to his office and pretentiously greet J. Gatdet as he was welcoming him back to the country. One Kenyan officer told South Sudanese officer we brought him as you asked us for and South Sudanese officer replied by saying, “I know.” James realized there was some sort of a deal between South Sudan and Kenya governments about his deportation.

Shortly after James had been handed over, Kenyan officer’s appeal to South Sudan immigration officers that they are returning with the same aeroplane in that regard they need a confirmation letter before they depart back to Kenya, that acknowledged South Sudan has received James Gatdet. South Sudanese officer told James to wait outside and call him back when he finishes with Kenyan officers. James said, “he never saw that South Sudanese again and didn’t see Kenyan officers again either. James was taken to a different office where he meets young officers who were asking him why he always likes to work with Riek and not anyone else like Taban Deng. Some told him, you look very young than we thought you are, and compliment him, we love your writings. James waited for 40 minutes in that office while preparations to transport him to detention centre was underway.

After the wait, the decision was made, James has to be taken to national security detention centre, the “Blue House.” They took him and when they arrived at the house, James was introduced to officers in charge of the prison. He was ordered to take off his shoes, watch and other belongings. After he took off his belongings, James was led to a tiny room where he will spend the first nine months of absolute solitary confinement. James was declared dangerous element who have been brainwashed by Riek Machar. He was confined in a tiny room that has nothing but the dirt, insects and mosquitoes. No blanket or anything to sleep on and the room was too hot. There was no window, only a small open above between the ceiling and the wall. It was just put there to bring some sort of oxygen for breathing purposes not for refreshing the room temperature. He was told to sleep on the cemented floor.

Then the person who led him to the room left and lock the door. James was not allowed to take a shower or go to the bathroom at will except once every 24 hours, usually in the afternoon. They don’t care whether the human body natural function occurred. He was told to follow the rules without any violation. He should not talk to other detainees, read a book, newspaper nor listening to the radio. The other detainees were also reminded to not come closer to his door, anyone who does must risk severe punishment. Detention officer appoints only one inmate to service James with a meal once a day and fill his drinking water five-litre jerrican. Hot weather was unbearable! The sweat is constantly flowing and James dehydrated so fast. He sometimes suffocated as he grasped oxygen to breathe. Whenever weather is humid, other detainees forget about their own conditions and pray for James condition in his confined cell. James noticed, what kept him alive was the fact that detention director and administration kept giving him enough drinking water during the day and night throughout hot weather season. They know, if James is left without water for a few hours, he would suddenly die given the excessive heat and dehydration. James could not sleep well sometimes, due to the heat even though he is fanning himself with a piece of cartoon one Good Samaritan detainee sneaked into him. James was sleeping on the floor without any blanket. One day James asked the prison director to get him a Bible, which he agreed and asked James where he can get the Bible. The director said, “He would try his best to look for it.” Coincidently, James wife sent his Bible and hymn from Nairobi to Juba through relatives and those items were delivered to the office of director-general, who agreed James could be allowed to read the Bible.

Fortunately, director-general made a phone call to the director of the detention centre to deliver them to him. The detention centre director brought the items including clothes James’ wife included in the package. He told Gatdet, “here are your items, Riek sent them to you.” James wondered how his books and clothes are brought from Nairobi, had Kenya invaded his family. He asked the director, who replied he doesn’t know how the item was brought. He just wanted not to disclose how the items brought from Kenya. James began reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. James also sings songs in Nuer silently. According to James, his spiritual books empowered him and driven his worried away. He stops thinking about whether he was going to be killed or not. He convinced himself everything are going to be alright.

Another thing that worried James was paralysis. The fact that he always sits in one place, makes him worried his legs would be paralyzed because he does not exercise or do enough stretches due to the heat. The only time he could do those, was when the weather has changed during the rainy season. James and other 27 detainee’s jail cell located upstairs in the building. There was a bigger number of other detainees, over 150 common criminals downstairs. Their number kept fluctuating. All detainees’ cell doors regularly remain open 24 hours a day except James door that constantly remained closed. In his isolated cell, fellow inmates sometimes pass information to him while they are passing by his cell if they heard any news necessary for James to hear. For the fast nine months, James had never seen the sun. He only knows through memory and the feeling of the heat that sun is there still existing outside. As a result, James body began to turn pale and peeling all over due to the lack of sufficient vitamins. The only chance James would be able to see other detainees is when it was mealtime in the afternoon. It is the only time security officers on the duty would come and open his door in order for him to go to the bathroom and takes a shower. Officers always dictate him that, James has to take only five minutes in the shower and the bathroom. If he spends more than five minutes, officers must bang the door and called him out. However, there are some occasions a kind-hearted officer must be in duty, he/she might not mind allowing James to take more than five minutes.

No family members or friends allowed to visit him for the first eight months in detention. He was not allowed to call his family members in Nairobi, for the reason that, they didn’t want the outside world to confirm where he was. On one lucky day, a fellow detainee sneaked a mobile phone to James cell. James did not know how the detainee get the phone since they are not allowed to keep phones. With the phone sneaked in to him, James broke unpopular rules and made a call to his family in Nairobi, the phone call relief him from worry about the fate of his family, it became an assurance from the family James was alive in Blue House and James learned his family are on the process to be relocated to the third country outside of Africa in European countries. James also learned his relatives, friends and community help support his family after his abduction. However, the phone call James made, did not go without being detected. The administration probably through the spy among detainees, noticed James made a call. In the next day, James was called to the office and was investigated. “Have you made a phone call? We have heard you called Riek on the phone? Who gave you the phone? And don’t you know phones are not allowed in this facility?” Gatdet denied he did not make a phone call. However, officers did an investigation and find out those who gave James the phone. Two detainees were severely beaten in front of James cell and both were punished by confining them in tiny jail cell-like James is. Though James pleaded he would be the only person who should be punished, officers refuse to punish him, saying James was a high profile detainee. One month later, the two cellphone rule violators were taken back to their previous cells where they regained little freedom of staying in open door jail cells.

In Blue House, James had noticed tribalism is being played at the national security headquarters. Almost all officers who are administering and guarding the detainees were from one ethnic group, from senior down to junior. All of them harboured tribal hatred toward detainees from other tribes. James saw it in their baby language. One officer sometimes called James by his tribe name rather than his given name. Whenever that officer look through James cell tiny hole, he regularly yelled to James disrespectfully. When James reported to him one day that James is sick and the officer would report it to the director so that James would be allowed to see the doctor, the merciless officer rejoiced and failed to report the appeal to the director. During Christmas day on December 25, 2017, the same officer came to James door and looked at the cell through the tiny hole on the door, James told him, “Merry Christmas!” The guy replied by asking, “Do you still remember Christmas day?” He went back checking his head. James also noticed people lost their lives at the detention due to negligence. He witnessed four deaths while he was in prison. They decease may have died because of deliberate negligence with the knowledge of the senior officers in the administration, or because the soldiers and junior officers guarding the detainees refused to allow seriously ill individuals see the doctor. According to James, “the doctor who was running the clinic in the detention centre was inexperienced, he sometimes prescribes wrong medicines for wrong diseases.” People also got malnourished because of the lack of food.

As James continue in his forced abduction, he was surprised by the arrival of Agreey Idri Izbon and Dong Samuel Luak on January 25, 2017, to the Blue House. The two men were also abducted the same way James was abducted from Kenya. James had a chance to talk to Agreey as he was confined on the same floor with James but did not see Dong who was confined downstairs. On January 27, 2017, James saw Agreey through his tiny peephole being led by officers and also heard from other detainees Dong has been taken as well. James never heard from them again.

One night James was interrogated by three officers who set in circle and James was seated in the middle with his handcuffed. One officer asked him, “What can you tell us about Riek Machar?” James responded, “One of the things I know about Dr Riek is that he loves all people of South Sudan, from all 64 tribes.” Before he could finish his sentence, one officer yelled at him. Shut up! “Do you mean President Salva Kiir does not love people from all the tribes in South Sudan?” James said, “that not what I meant, you didn’t ask me about President Kiir. If you asked me about President Kiir, I may tell you good things about him too.” “Shut up!” one interrogator shouted! Other two officers were looking at James angrily. They expected James to say bad things about Dr Riek and that what could make them happy. After the interaction, officers were furious and used threatening language to James. They also accused James of J1 incident that, James was the one who incited the fighting through his writings, while James commented on a war which already ignited. After a while, the director of the detention centre declared the interrogation was over. He said, “Time was already 3:00 AM, why don’t you just joined the government?” James kept quiet. After James did not answer them, the director told his colleague, “You know, if we release him, he will go back to Riek.” They took James back to his jail cell. Later on, that interrogation was fabricated James has insulted senior army officers, which was a white lie. They were creating the lie, to make government senior officials get mad so that James should severely be punished.

A week later, a preliminary investigation kicked off. A committee of three officers from the national security was formed by the leadership of the institution to investigate James. They printed copies of James writings on the internet. They asked James whether he was the one who wrote the messages. James admits he wrote them. The investigation from five pages document was finalized and the document was taken to leadership to decide whether James could be acquitted or other further actions should be taken. Another investigation followed two weeks later. A committee was formed to carry out a final investigation.

At that time, the committee was formed by the ministry of justice. The attorney general of the government was put in charge to oversee the investigation and recommend or take further action in favour or against James status. James was called to the office of the director in the morning being waited for by three officials from the justice department. One of them is known to James as he used to visit Dr Riek office when he still the Vice President. Their message to James was, “we have been summoned by the minister of Justice to come and see you.” The reason being, “President of the republic, General Salva Kiir, summoned our minister the other day and asked him about your case. So, we will soon begin a fresh investigation. You will hear from us soon.” James nodded in agreement. Three justice department officials continue, “You are not supposed to be at National Security detention centre. We would have kept you at a police station. But, because the environment at the police station is not good for your safety and is crowded with many people, we decided that you remain in the custody of the national security. Your file is however from today has to be transferred to the ministry of justice.” James nodded again. The official then asked James again whether James has been treated fairly and was not tortured. James told them about the suffering he was going through inside the locked cell and the generally harsh conditions at the centre. He also told them about one officer who most of the time call him by his tribe’s name and regularly beat him. One of the justice minister officials turned to the director and remind him that, it is not good to humiliate James, since James’s case is not a criminal case, but political. The director did not comment on James condition in solitary confinement. James saw the director body language pretending like he didn’t know what had happened to James. He just told justice department officials that, he will make sure officer who maltreated James must be disciplined. Justice Department officials left and James was taken back to his cell.

In following days, James kept seeing the officer who maltreated him and nothing called discipline has been done to him. He has not even remorse from his ill behaviours. One week later, the final investigation began. Three-men committee was formed by the ministry of justice. These men were a combination of lawyers from both the ministry of justice and that of national security. They were headed by a lawyer from the ministry of justice. This committee was later transformed into the prosecution team after the investigation had over. The committee came to detention centre carrying copies of James press statements in which he criticized the government while he was the rebel chairperson press secretary. They also brought a copy of a document produced in the previous preliminary investigation, which was conducted by the committee from the national security. James was shown the copies of his writings to confirm whether they are his writings. James confirm 13 copies as his own writings. The statement on J1 do fight was made number one. One investigator asked James, “Do you agree with me that your Facebook post, which you posted in Nairobi, Kenya on 8 July, causes J1 clashes in Juba between the bodyguards of your boss and our presidential guards? He wanted James to say either yes or no. James told the investigator, J1 fighting started before he wrote the comment and explained how he first heard the news while in the bus coming home from Nairobi downtown. The investigation dragged on for several months while investigators were repeating similar questions again and again and James gives them the same answer over and over again as well. They also informed James that, “they were going to go to Kigali, Rwanda, to consult with experts on cybercrime who would ascertain that James was truly the one who wrote and published his press statements. James thought it was a waste of resources for the reason that, James did not deny the fact that all copies are his writings. It took the committee three months to come back with the result from the expert in Rwanda. Once they came back, James was called to the office and show him the same document, James had again confirmed he wrote and publish the documents.

In June 2017, the first visitor in the person of James younger brother in law managed to visit him and a few weeks later, visitors from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) made it in as well. James was taken to the main administration office for the first time to see them. The ICRC members brought with them letters written by some of James’s relatives. Base on the ICRC members’ visit, James was allowed to write back to the relatives who wrote to him as well as his family in Nairobi. In a short while, James other relatives were allowed to visit him. He also was allowed to speak with his family members in Nairobi again. In the second week of August 2019, James should be taken to court of laws for charges of treason against the State and insulting the President of the Republic. Other charges were including allegations of James publications. During all these investigations, James was denied access to a lawyer, but when the treason court was scheduled, James was given four defence lawyers that made him think that his freedom was coming near. He was hoping that the court will find him innocent. However, James was also sceptical about the case because of the interference of the country led to the court trial.

On August 15, 2017, at 10 AM, the trial began and James was told the trial will take place at the High Court in the capital. James defence team went along with him. The prosecution team who previously was the investigation committee transformed entered the courtroom and James defence team as well entered. Some of James relatives who were in Juba were allowed to witness the court session. As the judge came in the room, all the people rose. After people were told to be seated, the judge asked the prosecution team to make a statement. Prosecution team leader read their statement in English and the judge was speaking in Arabic. James Arabic skill is limited and requested an interpreter to translate for him in the next session. After the prosecution team leader did with their statement, he submitted it to the judge. In a very short period of time, the judge adjourned the session and announced that the next session would be the submission of evidence against James. James was taken back to the detention centre accompanied by the prosecution team. The officer in charge of the centre was directed to leave James’s cell door open with immediate effect. The prosecution team also communicated that James must now be allowed to keep the radio, read books, newspapers and interact with the rest of the detainees. However, they warned James should not discuss politic with the detainees. James relatives were informed to visit him as they want. They also were asked to find a mattress, sleeping bed sheets, and money to use for food and beverage. The next day, James was relocated from the small cell to a spacious self-contained cell with bathroom inside. James relatives brought a mattress, a pair of bed sheets, a pillow and a mosquito net. The new room looked good to James compared to the confined solitary room. Other detainees were so happy to see James enjoying the fresh air like them. They told James he was the only person they saw being kept in solitary confinement at Blue House for such a very long time. Individuals who have been detained and solitary confined, spent only two weeks before they could be relocated to better cells. Except for one young man who was accused of supporting rebels in Eastern Equartoria. He was kept for six months inside before he was allowed to remain open. He was then released without charges and went home.

On August 30, 2017, James was taken to court for the second time. The judge asked the prosecution to provide and present evidence to the court. The same printing documents from Gatdet press statements were presented as the evidence. The papers were presented one by one with additional verbal explanations by the prosecution team. It took the team a few hours to finish their submission. The judge adjourned the court session again. Then, the third session took place on September 6, 2017. In this session, all shreds of evidence were crosschecked and James defence team question the validity of the evidence prosecution team had submitted to the court. Number one evidence Prosecutor team were bitter about was the allegation that James had triggered J1 fighting by his post.

James defence team asked the prosecutors to read the statement aloud, which they did. After that, James defence team asked the judge to drop the post, because they said, it was just a report of the fight that already took place. They also asked the judge to dismiss all the charges because they all are baseless. James defence team had also reminded the judge that after the fighting government did not conduct any investigation of what caused J1 war. The president announced on the day of fighting that he formed a committee headed by then minister of interior to investigate the cause of fighting. Instead, government forces attacked Dr Riek residence before the investigation took place and the fighting has escalated. The judge decided to adjourn the court again. Later on, he was on the opinion to dismiss the charges, but conflicting opinions had emerged regarding interference of the country political leaders. James and his defence teams were told to wait for the confirmation of the special court. He indicated that chief justice had already appointed three members but one of them refused to take part because of the country leadership interference to the court. James and his defence were told to wait for chief justice who had travelled outside of the country. The judge said, the chief justice is the only person that had the prerogative to appoint a replacement of the declined judge.

On November 6, 2017, James was told the court must resume and on November 23, 2017, the court proceeded with the crosscheck of evidence previously submitted and James defence team question the validity of the evidence that already been discarded. James described the prosecution team argument as weak because sometimes they come up with bizarre accusations against James. For example, they accused James that he was responsible for the death that took place at Kaji-Keji by the time James was already been arrested. James defence team asked how James would be responsible for displacement while he was in detention for over a year. Their reason was that James statements were still visible on the Facebook account and could still be read by people. Another accusation about James was that he was responsible for the creation of more rebellion and factions against the government. James defence team asked the judge to summon some of those rebel leaders as witnesses and confirm to court James was actually the one who created them.

On December 21, 2017, opposition groups including SPLM/A-IO signed a cessation of hostility in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, which called for the release of all political detainees and James lawyers argued James should be released because of the peace override and nullified the trial. After James lawyers appeal was denied, they decided to withdraw from the trial and James was left alone without a lawyer. James tried to appeal to the judge to give him another lawyer to represent him, the judge refused. They just asked James to only bring witnesses. The witnesses they wanted James to bring are individuals who may confirm James was indeed is the spokesperson for the leadership of the SPLM/A-IO. James told them my witnesses must come from outside Juba, they refused and told him to find them inside Juba. Then James told them, Taban Deng would attest that James was indeed the spokesperson when he was with the IO movement. The judge told James, “Taban is the vice president of the country and him also a complainant against James, in that regain, he would not be a witness. James pleaded to the judge again about if his witnesses could be allowed to testify over technology via video from wherever they live around the world. They also refused. James was told the final verdict of his sentencing will be read out on February 12, 2018.

On February 12, 2018, media houses were invited to cover the day verdict will be announced. The lead judge read out the charges and condemned James for all the things the prosecution team persuaded them to acknowledge. In the end, they asked James whether he would plead for a lesser sentence. James stood up and began to challenge them that the case was judged unfairly. They became mad and ordered him to sit down. Then, they announced a ten minutes break to consult. About 15 minutes later, judges came back and read the verdict out loud. He indicated that James was sentenced to death by hanging in addition to 21 years of jail term. The judge told James he has a right to appeal within 15 days. James relatives came to console him, instead, James consoled them despite the fact that he did not believe the verdict was true.

After the death sentence verdict, James was rushed to Juba central prison. When he arrived, his both ankles were immediately chained with heavy chains and also dressed in red uniform, which differentiates inmates sentenced to death from the rest of prisoners. In that prison, there are separate wards for inmates who are waiting for the execution and James was taken to one of them. In the following week, William John Endly, a South African national was charged for alleged terrorism, supporting rebel leader Dr Riek Machar and illegally enter the country. He was placed in a separate ward close to James; cell. At the same token, he was immediately chained on his angles. James found the new prison to be different than the Blue House. The prison has 1,800 inmates and 200 of them were sentenced to death. The freedom in the new prison was better than the one James experienced in Blue House except for the fact that the sanitation at the new prison is very poor. James was put together with five other inmates. They told him they heard about his adduction from Kenya. Others have to come from their cells and visit James. Oftentimes, they console James to not be worried about the death sentenced, they believe James will not going to be killed. As days went by, James decided to make the phone call to console his family. When it was found out James had made the phone call, he was called to the office. James was punished by not allowing any relatives to bring him food or visit him. The lady who was a captain and officer in prison was punished as well. After two weeks, visitation from relatives resumed and food and money from relatives and friends were allowed again. James began to encourage his five inmate group to eat together with him. They give the money to the lady cook to cook for them. Then, the prison director became friendly to James after learning James village was in the vicinity of the original Bilpam General Headquarters at Ethiopian border and the director said he used to live in Bilpam and visit James village sometimes.

Though central prison is a freedom square for inmates’ interaction, sad dark days would sometimes occur unexpectedly or expectedly. These sad days come when a group of nervous-looking prison warders would surprise the inmates by telling everyone to enter their respective cells given the fact that officers are coming to pick up some of the death row inmates for execution because their appointed day to leave the world for heaven or hell had just arrived. Dark clouds would begin to hover over the inmates. Everyone faces would begin to turn gloomy. Those who are found playing dominoes or chatting in-groups would be forced to rush to their cells and sudden silence would take over and rule with uncertainty as to who the officers had come to pick up for execution today. After picking one, two or three, the officers would retreat back to the gallows carrying along with them their victims for the day. Silence among inmates would break with sobbing and even loud bitter cries, after the execution, one officer or two may come back and asked respective cellmates for the belongings of the executed individual (s) so that their relative who came to witness the execution would take the item home together with the body of the dead for a burial. Inmates have to realize that, their fellow inmate who has just eaten, played and laughed with them a few minutes ago, was no more. Everybody appetites would be dropped and friends would disperse hastily and began to lie down on their beds. Some would begin to sob, as they set in for soul-searching meditation or a plan for an exit strategy away from the trap and the cruel early judgment day. In one occasion, James had a chance to call his parents, father John Dak Lampuar and mother Mary Nyabel Puoch. They both assured James, he will not be killed.

In October 2018, news and speculations about James release began to emerge following the signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCISS). The peace document called for the release of all political detainees and political prisoners as well as prisoners of war. Without delay, SPLM/A-IO immediately released all prisoners they captured on the side of the government and handed them over to ICRC as demanded by the peace deal. The government did not a response to the call of releasing prisoners positively. Instead, it decided to release only selected few political detainees and left war prisoners in detentions. James was one of the political detainees the government decided to release but his release would come only if Riek Machar attends a peace celebration Salva proposed to take place in Juba. Riek reason that he will not attend the peace celebration at least James and all prisoners of war are released.

After a long period of disagreement or misunderstanding, the government had finally promised it will be released whoever still alive among political detainees and POWs and Dr Riek agreed he will attend the celebration in Juba. He knew if he refused to participate in peace celebration, the government may think that he was not interested and James might have not released. During Salva Kiir speech in celebration, he ordered James’ released making himself look as forgiver on the eye of both South Sudanese and the whole wide world. However, James’s release which supposed to happen on October 31, 2018, did not happen as planned. Instead, the release was pushed back to November 2, 2018, because November 1, 2018, was made a holiday for the reason that people will be deemed tired because of the peace celebration. Before James and Endly could exit the prison, the building was packed with news reporters and government officials such as cabinet ministers, generals from the police and national security in addition to ICRC. Then officers came to James and Endly cells and ordered them to wear their red prison uniforms and only leave the chains behind. They were taken to the office of director where they found everyone, some ministers and generals seating. They were briefed by the minister of interior and beside him was the deputy minister of justice. They signed the release papers, procedurally authorizing the prison administration to let James and Endly go free. In front of the office building door, a bid crowd of officials from different walks of life plus security officers were waiting for James and Endly exit. Media representatives began to take pictures and want to record statements from James and Endly plus some of the relevant ministers. First, the minister of interior issued a statement, followed by James and then Endly. After they finished with the media, a V8 Land Cruiser vehicle that was waiting for them took them to Blue House were officials of that detention centre were waiting to sign papers clearing them from pervious charges documented by their institution.

The Blue House officials were asked by officials who brought James and Endly from the central prison for James passport, they said they misplaced the passport. They elaborated that James has to get the new one from the office of the department of nationality, passports and immigration. While in Blue House, James and Endly said goodbye as Endly was being taken to Juba international airport to fly back to his native country South Africa. James was taken to see the chairman of the pre-transitional national committee in charge of the implementation of the pre-transitional activities of the revitalized peace agreement. James was handed over to him and he made some preparation for James accommodation to the hotel. During the next day, James was taken to Immigration office to get the passport, there, the director-general who is also a police general in charge of the immigration department, told James and the official assigned to accompanying him that, James passport was previously banned and out of their system. He told them, in order for him to authorize his staff to activate and reprint James passport, James and the accompanying official must have to bring a letter of authorization from the executive. James and assigned official report the issue to the chairman of the peace committee, who immediately communicated in written form the urgency of the matter to the minister of interior. When James and the assigned official went back to the immigration office, the director-general came up with a different story that he was looking for an authorization letter from the national security leadership.

While in the immigration office, James was called by the office of the first vice president to see him after James release. James was accompanied by the official assigned to him. They met the vice-president and informed him about the issue of the passport. He immediately called the minister of interior who narrated to him that he had already written a letter of authorization, but it was rejected. He promised James and the assigned official that he will look into the matter and it will be resolved soon. Then, the vice president came up with the topic of James abduction and deportation from Kenya, which he started by saying, he had no idea how James was abducted and deported. He blamed Kenyan authority for the behaviour to deport James to Juba. He also attacked social media users, that they are wrongly pointing fingers at him and others for James’s abduction. He also asked James whether James knew anything about Idri and Dong Luak if they were brought to Juba as reported in the media. James sugarcoated and said “no!” about vice president question regarding Idri and Dong. James focused on his case and told him, he did not know who abducted him from Kenya. He pointed out to him that, he was doing his job as an official spokesperson for the leadership of the opposition and reminded him that he himself knew James job really well once Taban still with opposition.

In response, the vice president passed a message through James to tell Dr Riek that he and president Salva are going to stick to the peace implementation. The discussion ended there. Then, the official assigned to help James who was also a general went back to national security to request the letter. He was given a letter by the deputy of the person in command. When he came back with the letter and handed over to immigration official, the immigration official rejected the letter again saying, the letter should come from the chairperson of the national security who was in a mission to Khartoum. When he came back to Juba, he wrote the letter of authorization directing it to the office of director-general for immigration. The letter was delivered in person by one of his aides. Surprisingly, the immigration director rejected the letter again from the top man he previously said was the right man to write the letter. He said the letter must come from the office of the president.

The whole confusion took one month and a half. In one occasion, James was informed president wanted to see him but he could see James with the chairman of the peace committee who could accompany James to his office. It happened that the peace committee went to Khartoum for a wedding mission before he came back, another information came to James again that, the president has changed his mind and decided not to meet James. The reason for cancelling a meeting with James was that president said, he was not sure about what to tell James for the reason that his office was not responsible for James abduction and deportation from Kenya. Finally, the office of the president issued a letter directing that James should be given a passport with an immediate effect. James was called to the office of immigration to pick up the passport and immediately went to Sudanese embassy to obtain a visa and proceed with the purchase of the ticket to Khartoum. After James obtained all documents, he decided to pass by Blue House again to say goodbye to the director of the centre and informed him he (James) had already bought the ticket and ready to fly. In return, he thanked James for informing him about his departure. James also told him to notify security agents who might block him at the airport. The director assured James everything will going to be alright. James was taken to the airport. When he climbed up to the stairs of the plane, he returned and waved to those who accompanied him to the airport and told them goodbye.

James Gatdet’s story of abduction and deportation to the enemy den was indeed a “painful story.” Kenya has acted irresponsibly and violated the United Nations refugee universal human rights which recognized the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in their native countries. Instead of deporting, James would have been located to a different country outside of South Sudan and continue to live as a refugee where he could not be tortured and placed in solitary confinement. Deporting an innocent person to the country where he or she could be placed in solitary confinement is tantamount to torture and it is dangerous. Thank God for saving James Gatdet life in the hand of the notorious killer regime who killed two of his colleagues who have been similarly deported and handed over to them by the same Kenyan government. Finally, one is so appreciative to James’s brother in law Dr Dor Mayual for sending me the book generously.

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