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Journalists tackle president on shrinking press freedoms

Anthony Wani
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says South Sudan’s media faces repression and harassment and penned a letter demanding action from President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
5.06.2013  |  Juba
Journalists covering the independence celebrations in Juba, July 9, 2011.
Journalists covering the independence celebrations in Juba, July 9, 2011.

On Wednesday, May 22, the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote a letter to President Salva Kiir, asking him to intervene in his nation’s deteriorating record on press freedom.

CPJ called on the president to impose sanctions on security bodies and official organisations, including criminal prosecution for government officials and institutions that intimidate journalists.

A firm response to these violations will restore confidence among the local media and ensure that the freedoms for which your government fought will be upheld,” the letter explained.

Read the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) letter to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit:
Press must be able to work freely in South Sudan
In the letter dated 22 May, the CPJ said it had recorded at least 12 cases of harassments, unlawful detention and threats to media people in the country in the last six months.

In all but two of the cases, security officials were the perpetrators. Security agents, including police, have routinely harassed, intimidated, and occasionally detained Journalists,” the CPJ said.

Signed by CPJ’s New-York-based Executive Director, the letter said that most of the harassment cases occurred while the journalists were trying to do their job.

South Sudan has been backsliding in its treatment of reporters since it gained independence in 2011. Reporters Without Borders recently ranked South Sudan at 124 in its global ranking according to press freedoms, 13 places below its position a year earlier.

In a recent case that coincided with the World Press Freedom Day, a senior Journalist working for the Juba Monitor, Michael Koma was detained for running a controversial piece.

On the same day a journalist working for a The Corporate newspaper reported having his equipment confiscated as he took pictures at a scene of accident. They were later returned.

According to members of the media, the media bill, which is still under discussion among politicians, is vital to safeguard press freedoms.

The US Ambassador to South Sudan Susan Page in Juba, May 24.
© The Niles | Anthony Wani
Some, however, blame the problem on the young nation’s hostility to criticism. Authorities consider that negative coverage in these areas undermine the state’s authority and image, which national security is keen to protect,” journalist Michael Koma said.

Susan Page, the US Ambassador to South Sudan, said on Friday, May 24, that the issue of press freedom remains a major concern. A free press shows that a government is ready to be held accountable to the people who elected them, she said. And so we are concerned about the continuing pushback of journalists and the intimidation,” she said.

She added that the country’s deteriorating record on human rights flew in the face of its constitution which supports freedom of expression. Page stressed that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure the protection of citizen’s rights as enshrined in black and white. We believe that the constitution of South Sudan, even if it is a transitional constitution, is the supreme law of the land,” she said.