Security force harassment and the unlawful detention of journalists is undermining freedom of expression in South Sudan, said the head of journalists’ union Oliver Modi. “We have a number of cases including harassment, intimidation, detention and unnecessary arrest of journalists and all this is done by our security organs that could be custodians of law and provide protection to every citizen including journalists,” he said.
The worst is we have death cases now.”
Speaking to The Niles in Juba in late September, he said 2015 has been a hard period for journalists in South Sudan. “We have faced a lot of threats,” he said. “The worst is we have death cases now. There are eight cases of death incident recorded so far this year plus one journalist Clement Lochio went missing,” he said.
Modi called for an end to the harassment, detention and intimidation of journalists in the country, adding that the union has documented multiple cases, many at the hands of South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS), a security organ whose mandate and functions have never been established by law and which does not have any authority to arrest and detain people.
“One of prominent journalist Nhial Bol also left the profession due to death threats. We have a lot of enemies against journalists outside there. They might be security, members of civil society or the public, we don’t know. But security are arresting journalists - that is why we have direct confrontation with them,” he said.
The Union’s records proved that security organs were largely responsible for press freedom violations in the country and Modi added that it was dangerous for journalists to drive cars in Juba because security will trace their number plate.
To back the constitution that guarantees media freedom in the country, the media laws were passed namely the public broadcasting corporation, and the right to access to information and the media authority law. The three laws are structured already and will soon be functional.
We have a lot of enemies against journalists.”
Modi believes that these media laws will reduce threats against journalists in the country but he did not detail how. The current constitution governing the country has not been respected by the security organs. He said journalists in the country were increasingly self-censoring because of the harassment they face in connection with their work.
Many journalists steer away from contentious issues like corruption and the internal politics of South Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Either they have been told not to cover those subjects by members of security forces and they or their colleagues have been recently intimidated or detained for producing similar stories.
Since South Sudan attained its independence in 2011, its security forces have regularly intimidated and unlawfully arrested and detained journalists and editors because of their reporting.