9 January 2013

South Sudan: Western Bahr El Ghazal Governor Accuses Radio Journalist of Sabotage

Wau — Western Bahr el Ghazal Governor, Rizik Zachariah Hassan, has accused a radio journalist of sabotaging the coverage of the 24 December visit of President Salva Kiir to Wau, alleging that some state media employees deliberately did not cover his Christmas Eve speech that came after a wave of violently-put-down protests.

Around 20 protestors were killed in demonstrations on 8, 9 and 18 December, according to government figures. Other sources, including the former commissioner of Wau County, who resigned in protest at the move, putting the figure much higher.

Further violence in Farajallah village, located in the Bagari district, 48 miles from Wau town, claimed the lives of 26 innocent people, all members of Dinka ethnic group from the three different states of the greater Bahr el Ghazal region. Bagari is the proposed new location of Wau County's administrative headquarters

Governor Hassan accused some journalists in Wau of complicity in local politics, during a news conference broadcast by state-owned South Sudan televisionon Monday, adding that legal and administrative measures will be taken against them.

Three committees have been established to investigate the protests and deaths of civilians, he said. Authorities have been angered by the emergence of footage from Wau which seemed to show armed men firing on the protestors on December 9.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on 4 January that, according to the Catholic Radio Network, security agents in Wau accused state media of providing the video.

Many South Sudanese journalists, citing the harassment of several reporters since the protests began, have not been convinced by the Governor's explanation for the arrest of three state-media employees.

CPJ's East Africa consultant, Tom Rhodes, has said that "arrests appear to be part of an effort to suppress information about the unrest in Western Bahr el Ghazal".

In his speech on Monday the Governor confirmed reports that two employees of South Sudan TV (SSTV), Louis Pasquale and Ashab Khamis, were arrested and questioned. Both have now been released but the director of political and news programmes at SSTV, Kamilo Luchiano, remains under arrest in Wau.

The Governor has declined to describe the pair as journalists but rather as "senior administrators in the ministry of information" who "have big roles and responsibilities", including covering Kiir's visit.

The President's speech on 24 December, surprised some as he not only backed the Wau County transfer but also expressed his support for the Governor despite the deaths of protestors in Wau town and the incident in Bagari where 26 civilians were killed.

Governor Hassan accused Kamilo Luchiano, the state director for radio news of giving "a reporter a camera and recorder which were not functioning. They had a problem. The reporter reported to him that the equipments were not functioning but [Luchiano] decided to ignore" this and deliberately sabotaged the coverage of the speech.

SECURITY AND PEACE BUILDING

Security in the state has generally returned to normal, Hassan said.

Community leaders from Bazia and Farajalah areas, which are inhabited by members of the Balanda ethnic group, whose youth and intellectuals protested against the transfer of Wau County's headquarters to Bagari, some 12 miles south west of Wau town, visited the Governor for meetings last week, he said.

"On 3 January, we received two communities from Bazia and Farajalah. They gave us their approval of the relocation of the county headquarters to Bagari and denounced violence", he said.

He said the move taken by local leaders had "cleared a lot of obstacles and showed that a certain willingness to go forward and ready to take everyone's concerns" in running state of affairs.

PRESS FREEDOM DECLINING

While the government maintains it is commitment to promoting democratic ideals and good governance, journalists are often harassed by security services in the absence of clear media laws.

Human rights and press freedom groups have become increasingly critical of South Sudan's government since the country gained independence from Sudan 18 months.

In December a prominent opinion writer, known as Isaiah Abraham, was shot dead in Juba after receiving death threats related to his consistent critiquing of Salva Kiir and South Sudan's ruling party the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Kiir has condemned the killing and announced an investigation but those close to Abraham say they suspect those responsible for his death are related to South Sudan's security services.

Freedom of speech was one of the main reasons for which most of the current leaders in South Sudan's governing SPLM took up arms to fight successive Khartoum-based Sudanese government's in 1983.

The SPLM governed South Sudan as an autonomous region from a 2005 peace deal until a referendum in January 2011 led to independence six months later.

Some journalists and opinion have suffered from illegal detention often sanctioned by senior government officials, in some cases being subjected to systemic severe torture for days at a time.

Some analysts say that the South Sudanese government and security services have picked up the habit of mistreatment of journalists from their time sharing power with Khartoum during the six peace deal that led to secession.

Reporters Without Borders told al Jazeera this week that recent events in South Sudan mean that it is likely to slip down its annual press freedom league table, having originally been placed at 111 out of the 179 states included in the survey.

According to the press freedom index, there are only nine countries with a worse record of stifling the media than Sudan.

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