Juba/Rumbek — Civil society and human rights groups have criticised police in South Sudan's Lakes State for the arrest, and three-night detention of a female journalist who works for state-owned Radio Rumbek FM 98.
Ayak Dhieu Apar was arrested on Monday 14 May and held until Thursday 17 May, after she hosted a live radio talk show about the public's respect for the police, with various listeners calling in to criticise the conduct and competence of the police services.
Lakes State Commissioner of Police, Maj-Gen Saed Abdulatif Chawuol Lom, is reported to have visited the office of the radio station himself to oversee her arrest.
The governor of Lakes State, Chol Tong Mayay said, reportedly under heavy pressure from local youth activists and the director of the radio station, that the case will be treated as a personal case between individual policeman who ordered the arrest and the radio journalist.
Activists have called on the government to acquaint themselves with, and uphold, the constitution of South Sudan and stop the unlawful arrest and harassment journalists.
Moses Ater, a youth member of the country's ruling party, the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM), advised the police that they would avoid criticism if they improved their performance.
He said that the police "deserved to be criticised" because their services were "very weak". Ater said that the police did not have the capacity to protect civilians "or to imposed rule of law" in Lakes State.
Ater also accused the police of being involved in crime and excessive drinking of alcohol.
Ayak's radio programme invited callers to give their opinions about the police, she had not broken any law or violated the constitution, which "allows freedom of expression and equal access to media", he added.
Human rights body condemns Ayak's arrest
The South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHRA), on Saturday and Sunday condemned in the strongest terms, Ayak's arbitrary arrest, describing it as "unconstitutional" and a threat to media freedom in the world's newest nation.
It remains unclear under what law Ajak will be charged, given that South Sudan still lacks a media law, despite South Sudan being governed by the SPLM since 2005 and achieving independence last year.
Individual freedom was one of the stated causes of the SPLM's two-decade war with various Khartoum governments.
Biel Boutros Biel, the executive director of SSHRA, urged the police to uphold the constitution, further calling upon the "immediate" resignation of the Lakes State Commissioner of Police, Maj-Gen Saed Abdulatif Chawuol Lom.
"I am convinced that such an act of arresting Ayak plus many more unconstitutional acts in the hands of our law enforcement agencies can hardly be distinguished from the evils for which South Sudan took up arms for against Khartoum," Biel told Sudan Tribune.
"It is so sad that most of our institutions are doing exactly what caused South Sudan to secede from North Sudan."
The police sent five trucks full of policemen to arrest Ayak, after the director of Radio Rumbek FM-98, Deng Mesheck, refused to hand his journalist over without an arrest warrant.
Mesheck says that he will take the Lakes State police to court over the arrest, hiring six lawyers from Juba, the capital of South Sudan. The director of the government-funded radio station threaten to resign if the rule of law is not followed.
Lakes State minister for Information and Communication, Charles Badiri Mayen, said this case will be guided according to the will of Lakes State's Governor.
Human rights activist Biel described Ayak as the voice of the voiceless in society and said the actions of the police had contravened the country's transitional constitution and the principles of the rule of law within the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"Detaining Ayak for two days in police cell was a practical violation of Article 19(4) of the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011 that states; 'A person arrested by the police as part of an investigation, may be held in detention, for a period not exceeding 24 hours and if not released on bond to be produced in court. The court has authority to either remand the accused in prison or to release him or her on bail' ", he said, further citing section 64(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure 2008 Laws of South(Southern) Sudan, which he claimed was also violated by the police.
In strongly-worded petition copied to South Sudan Human Rights Commission (SSHRC), the Justice Ministry and the Committee on Human Rights in the national assembly, SSHRA called for the immediate withdrawal of all cases the police have brought against the journalist. The petition also asks that the Justice Ministry investigates the matter and holds the police officers responsible to account.
Youth Activists Condemn Violation of Press Freedom
Malou Manyiel, a student from Kampala told Sudan Tribune that Ayak was just doing her job as a journalist, allowing people to air their views. If not on a radio talks show, "Where and when on earth are we going to have our views heard? Will it be in our graves?".
Manyiel, like many other citizens Sudan Tribune has spoken to, accuse the police in Lakes State of committing crimes, especially of theft and steeling property.
"In the real sense, police are the most criminals and they are the one promoting crimes in our state in particular", he said, adding that some of the police had "turned against the people they were trained to protect".
Another youth activist, Alexander Mwangi, urged Lakes State citizens to use the rights granted to them under the constitution effectively.
If the police were not doing their duties to an acceptable standard "they are to be condemned. Wake up people! Do your job and stop harassing a youngster", he said, referring to Ayak.
Martin Manyiel Wugol, another youth activist told Sudan Tribune that he is very surprise to see the police act in forceful way, especially against a state-owned institution.
As Radio Rumbek FM-98 is government-owned station he wondered why the matter wasn't just taken up by Lakes State's Ministry of Information on behalf of the police rather than taking the "uneducated" option of arresting the journalist.
Ayak's arrest was a slap in the face for journalism in Lakes State and South Sudan in general, he said.
Human rights group's demands
The South Sudan Human Rights and Advocacy Association have said that the following steps should be taken in relation to the case:
Lakes State's police Commissioner Major General Saed Abdulatif Chawuol Lom should resign from his position pending investigations for his alleged role in instructing or ordering his officers to arbitrarily arrest journalist Ayak Dhieu Apar and detained her illegally beyond constitutionally enshrined 24 hour detention limit.
Rumbek police should withdraw all alleged charges against Ayak and if the police have better reasons to believe that they have a genuine case; then their suit of claim should be directed to and proved against the Radio Rumbek management and not individual journalist Ayak.
The Judiciary of South Sudan should intervene immediately and dismiss defamatory charges against journalist Ayak. The Judiciary should make their position clear because silence on this will mean condoning a violation of the Constitution, protection of which is the main role of the Judiciary.
South Sudan's Ministry of Justice should constitute an investigation team and bring those found responsible to account, including the alleged role of the Lakes State's police commissioner, subsequent to his prior and immediate resignation.
South Sudan's Ministry of Interior of the Republic of South Sudan should exercise the maximum control over its personnel, which at times willfully violate the Constitution. All South Sudanese citizens should own, adhere, uphold and protect the Constitution against any attack.