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Press freedom under attack
South Sudan’s Citizen newspaper lays off staff, forced to close

Waakhe Simon
The Citizen newspaper, which published South Sudan’s leading English-language daily, laid off its entire staff in late August, sending them home indefinitely without pay, after the paper was shut down by the government.
16.09.2015  |  Juba, South Sudan
The Citizen TV (CTV) staff being trained by The Niles in Juba, July 11, 2012. (photo: The Niles | Dominik Lehnert)
The Citizen TV (CTV) staff being trained by The Niles in Juba, July 11, 2012. (photo: The Niles | Dominik Lehnert)

Editor in Chief Nhial Bol, who in September announced that he was giving up journalism after a number of death threats, told The Niles that it was impossible to sustain the jobs. He also shut down Citizen Television, South Sudan’s only private television channel.

The Citizen newspaper – which had a daily circulation of approximately 5,000 copies across the country and owned the only printing press in Juba – funded its TV operations through revenues generated by the newspaper.

We cannot afford to have 75 people who are doing nothing.”
Nhial Bol

“We studied the situation. We cannot afford to have 75 people who are doing nothing and we cannot maintain them,” Bol said.

The development comes amid widespread fear among journalists after the killing of the reporter Moi Peter Julius who was recently shot dead in Juba, not long after President Salva Kiir warned journalists to be on their guard. The president’s office later said these comments had been taken out of context.

South Sudan’s government shut down The Citizen newspaper on August 4, without giving any reason for its decision. The Citizen newspaper and two other media organisations – Free Voice and Al Rai newspaper – also had their operations halted by officials.

Bol said he believed the closure followed his paper’s publication of a report encouraging the conflicting sides, government forces and rebels, to sign the IGAD compromise peace agreement.

Bol said his attempts to persuade the government to reopen the newspaper had been in vain. “We have exhausted all our discussions with security, we gave them all the documents they have been asking for,” Bol said, adding that it was forced to cut at least 70 jobs.

“It will affect my community and especially my family.” 
Ater Garang

Ater Garang, a senior reporter at The Citizen newspaper, said many families would be hard hit at a time when most South Sudanese struggle to get enough to eat. “It will affect my community and especially my family who I support using the little resources that I get from The Citizen.”

Ongoing tension, amid a violent conflict which has killed thousands of people since 2013 and displaced millions, has made it increasingly hard to find work in South Sudan. Journalism is especially difficult, as reporters are subjected to deep local suspicion, death threats, and are potential targets of the security forces. This climate has loomed large over media houses, fuelling fears about publishing critical ideas.

Gale Julius, another reporter, was downbeat about his chances of finding work in the capital. “I have to start going to the streets looking for another job. These days getting a job in Juba is very difficult,” Julius said. “This is a huge task.”

Meanwhile, Oliver Modi, the chairman of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) and self-declared “leader of the media in South Sudan”, criticises Nhial Bol for his “unilateral decision” to quit journalism.

Juba Monitor, Issue No. 490.

Juba Monitor, Issue No. 490.

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#Pressfreedom: Under attack
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