Juba — South Sudan police detained three journalists from the Gurtong website on Friday in the capital Juba, two days after a leading political commentator, Isaiah Ding Abraham Chan Awuol, was shot dead by unknown gunmen.
South Sudan police from the Buluk area of Juba putting the driver of the Gurtong reporters's car into a police van. (Photo: Gurtong)
At around 10am the journalists' driver was arrested and taken to a police station after he failed to show his driving licence. The incident occured on the road to Hai Referendum in Gudelle , the western suburb of the capital where Awuol was killed early on Wednesday morning.
The three reporters say they followed the police car which had taken their colleague to Bukul police station but when they entered a scuffle broke out and they were all beaten and detained. The police had wanted to delete photos taken by the journalists, one of the reporters said.
However, the pressmen added, a more senior police officer intervened and released the reporters, recommending that they open a case against the police for mistreating them.
The spokesman of the South Sudan Police Services, Col. James Monday, told UN Radio Miraya FM's 'Inside South Sudan Program' at 5 pm on Friday that the three policemen who were involved had been placed in detention for further questioning.
One of the journalist told Sudan Tribune that the police "did not know that we journalists" until they started taking photographs at the police station. Although they had press cards, the journalists said that they did not have time to show them to the police before they were beaten and detained.
He said that their cameras and recorders were taken from them as the policemen wanted to delete any information or photos taken but the equipment was returned upon their release.
All the three journalists work for the Gurtong website, one of the online publications that the late Isaiah Ding Abraham Chan Awuol used to write for before his death.
UN concerned over death of columnist
On Friday the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) expressed "deep concern" over the death of the independent columnist who was also known as Diing Chan Awuol and wrote under the pen name, Isaiah Ding Abraham.
Awuol had worked for the United Nations during the war as well as, at other times, fighting with the southern rebels which now govern independent South Sudan.
In a statement, UNMISS said that the full and thorough investigation promised by South Sudan President Salva Kiir was of "utmost importance".
Awuol was shot outside his home in Gudelle between midnight and 4am on 5 December. Family members and friends have spoken anonymously about the threats he received before his death due to articles, which were often critical of government.
As well as Gurtong, Awuol also wrote frequent columns for Sudan Tribune and also wrote for the Destiny newspaper, while it was publishing.
Reporters Without Borders said on Thursday that Awuol's "death is a tragic setback to the hopes cherished by South Sudan's defenders of freedom of opinion since independence" in July 2011 as part of a landmark 2005 peace deal with Khartoum.
The press freedom group added: "The way this case is handled will be test for freedom of information and free speech in this young nation. Only a tireless fight against impunity for crimes of violence against journalists and other news providers will preserve these freedoms, which are the basis of democracy."
If it is established that Awuol's death was motivated by his writing, he will be the first South Sudanese journalist to be killed in connectrion with his work.
South Sudan's ruling party - the SPLM - and the young nation's army - the SPLA - have proven sensitive to criticism since the came to power in 2005, struugling to adjust to the move from guerilla movement to responsible governance.
One of Awuol's relatives told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday: "I knew he would one day be assassinated for his writings and I told him to stop but he said he would prefer to die than to stop writing."