The three shut down media houses in Juba are The Citizen newspaper, Al-Rai newspaper and Free Voice. Voice of America (VOA), which shares offices with Free Voice, has been affected as well.
The Editor in Chief of the Citizen newspaper, Nhial Bol, says no reason has been provided for the shutdown of the paper. Bol explains that a security officer telephoned him on Monday saying orders from above” that the paper should remain closed until further notice.
A security officer, who I know at the National Security, called me and told me that we will not come out until the problem is resolved,” Bol says. However, up to now he hasn’t received any official communication.
Bol suspects that an opinion piece written by him, advocating for government and rebels to sign a peace agreement soon, might be the reason for the closure. What I found out is that they [government] are blaming us for having run some news item which is supporting the proposed agreement between the government and the rebels,” Bol says.
I have been getting some indirect information [over the] last one week that the government is telling us that we should not campaign for the peace agreement to take place, because of the government’s position,” he says.
The Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) says the closure of the Citizen newspaper is the latest slap in the face of the media in the country.
AMDISS condemns this act as it infringes flow of information and undermines the development of media in South Sudan”, Alfred Taban the Chairperson of AMDISS says. AMDISS appeals to the authorities concerned to reconsider this move and allow the paper to be reopened as soon as possible.”
Taban also urges the government to allow Free Voice and Al-Rai to operate.
Last year copies of the Citizen newspaper were confiscated by the security following a story about a proposed federal system of government for the country.
Bol says so far the closure has cost him at least 50,000 South Sudanese Pounds (approx. USD 20,0000) and that about 1,000 vendors distributing the paper have lost their income.
The European Union Delegation to South Sudan, in agreement with the Heads of Mission of France, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, The United Kingdom and the Heads of Mission of Canada, Norway and of Switzerland in a joint statement released Thursday note with concern the shutdown of the three media houses.
Freedom of media and freedom of expression are core principles of democracy. Free, diverse and independent media constitute one of the cornerstones of a democratic society by facilitating the free flow of information and ideas, and by ensuring transparency and accountability. We urge the Authorities of the Republic of South Sudan to guarantee the exercise of these freedoms in conformity with international standards,”
the statement reads.
Meanwhile, the German Federal Foreign Office welcomes the resumption of the peace talks between South Sudan’s warring factions in a press release issued on August 6. Germany further calls on the conflicting parties to negotiate on the basis of the current IGAD proposal. This includes the open debate on the peace process. The closure of newspapers and radio stations in South Sudan goes in opposition to such a process,” the press release states.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also condemns the closures, saying officials have targeted the press throughout the conflict, which has led to self-censorship as journalists try to avoid harassment and closures, according to CPJ research”.