30 November 2013

South Sudan: Authorities Detain Two Newspaper Journalists

Juba — South Sudan Security agents briefly detained two independent newspaper journalists, confiscating their camera before releasing them on Saturday, The Citizen's editor-in-chief said.

Rama Benjamin and Samir Bol, both of whom work for the English-language newspaper daily, which also runs an affiliate TV station, were reportedly detained for not carrying a government press card.

However, The Citizen's editor-in-chief, Nhial Bol, said no official reason was given for their detention and nor had the paper been notified.

"Two of our staff members, both of them journalists, Rama Benjamin and Samir Bol were detained for two-and-a-half hours today. [Their] camera was taken away and [they were] denied coverage before they were released", Bol told Sudan Tribune on Saturday.

He said the incident was unjustified and that journalists were under no legal obligation to carry government press cards.

"There was no official communication with us. If there is a circular, the minister [for information Michael Makuei Lueth] should inform us in writing so that we all know. They cannot act just like that. So, we do not really know what the minister is trying to achieve. He is acting outside the law. There is no law that says all the journalists should carry the government press card", said Bol.

Samuel Laku, an independent journalist, currently studying at Ndeje University in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, told Sudan Tribune the actions of the security agents was unacceptable, calling for an end to the ongoing harassment of journalists.

"The detention of The Citizen journalists today is another example of the government agents acting outside the law in trying to harass journalists", said Laku. "I call on the government to cease sponsoring such unacceptable behaviour. The security personnel should not be allowed to constantly harass journalists in the course of carrying out their normal duties", he added.

Calls to George Garang Deng, South Sudan's under-secretary at the ministry of information, were not returned, while an official the same ministry said he had no information about the detention.

"I am not the spokesperson of the government and I also do not have such information. But I think there must have been something they did. There is no way someone can be detained without any reason. There must be something they did not do right", said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


Meanwhile, Bol has accused the government agents of returning South Sudan to the "dark world" prior to the new nation seceded in 2011.

"They are taking us back to the dark world of Sudan by harassing journalists and denying them coverage on no grounds. I do not know what the minister is trying to achieve", said Bol.

Journalists in South Sudan have been subject to sustained arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment since secession for reporting on issues perceived to be critical of the government. The situation has led many journalists to practice self-censorship in order avoid government censure.

Last month, the minister of information ordered all journalists to obtain new accreditation, without which they cannot operate.

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