Juba — The US envoy to South Sudan has strongly supported calls for press freedom in the country, saying the state has the constitutional mandate to protect journalists.
"The US government is very concerned about the deteriorating levels of press freedom in the country. The continued push back, intimidation and harassment of journalists is a violation of their rights and freedoms," Susan Page told reporters in the capital, Juba Friday.
Her remarks came in response to a letter the Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) wrote to South Sudan President Salva Kiir, citing the deteriorating state of press freedom in new country.
In the past six months, CPJ said it has documented several cases of attacks, intimidation, and detention of journalists by security agents in South Sudan.
"... we are concerned that this harassment has led to self-censorship and even exile among the local press corps," the media body said in the letter.
We urge you to use the power of your office to ensure that journalists are allowed to work freely without harassment and censure from state security officials, the letter adds.
CPJ said it documented at least 12 cases of "attacks, harassment, and detention" of journalists in South Sudan.
"In all but two of the cases, security officials were the perpetrators. Security agents, including police, have routinely harassed, intimidated, and occasionally detained journalists," it said in the letter, also copied to representative from the US, Norway and the Netherlands, among others.
The body, in its petition, cited a case of two local journalists, John Penn de Ngong and Zehariah Manyok, allegedly forced to censor themselves and even force to flee the country as a result of fear.
"Mr. President, official threats and attacks against the press violate Article 24 of South Sudan's transitional constitution, which stipulates that "all levels of government shall guarantee the freedom of the press," CPJ said.
While it is encouraging that the Media Authority Bill, which was designed to provide the press with an independent regulator, was signed into law this week, the state must also address security concerns of journalists in South Sudan, the strongly-worded letter added.
Early this year, reporters without border ranked South Sudan at 124 out of 148 countries, falling 12 places, in the annul press freedom rankings.