Voice of America (Washington, DC)

18 August 2014

South Sudan: Journalist Detained, Radio Station Shut Down Over Report

Photo: Sudan Tribune
Media freedom.

A South Sudanese radio station was silent Monday and its news editor spent a third day in detention over a story that the government says blames its troops for new fighting in Unity state.

Members of the National Security Service took Bakhita Radio off the air and detained news editor David Nicholas Ocen and three other staff members on Saturday, shortly after the station aired a story about fresh fighting near Bentiu. All of the station's staff except Ocen were released the same day.

South Sudan presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said Ocen was detained because he "made the public believe that it was the government attacking the rebels, not rebels attacking the government positions" that triggered the clashes near Bentiu.

Bakhita Radio said on its website that Ocen had been detained for "balancing a news story about the fresh fighting in Bentiu, Unity State."

In the story aired on the FM station, acting SPLA spokesman Joseph Marier Samuel is cited as saying rebel forces attacked government positions, and rebel spokesman Peter Riek Gew as saying the opposite -- that government troops attacked positions held by the opposition.

Albino Tokwaro, Bakhita Radio's Director, said he has apologized to the National Security Service and is trying to negotiate Ocen's release.

Ateny said security officials were still interrogating Ocen Monday and will eventually release him or take him to court, although he did not indicate when.

Unlawful detention?

The chair of the South Sudan Union of Journalists, Oliver Modi Philip, said Ocen's detention was unconstitutional. South Sudan's transitional constitution guarantees access to a lawyer in the event of detention by the authorities, and says suspects must appear in a court of law within 48 hours of being arrested.

Ateny said there were limits to the right of free speech guaranteed by the constitution.

"Anything that will expose the army, which is defending the constitution, to be vulnerable is against the national security," he said.

National security officials last month shut down a church-run radio station, Weer Bei FM, in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, after it broadcast a report that the state government considered offensive.

Media rights eroded

Early this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said media rights have been seriously eroded in South Sudan since the country plunged into conflict eight months ago.

CPJ East Africa representative Tom Rhodes said the media rights organization knew of at least 10 journalists who have been harassed or threatened with arrest since the fighting began in December.

"It goes along with this notion that some of the authorities want journalists not to cover the conflict or at least cover only their side of the conflict," Rhodes said.

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