The Editor-in-Chief of the Juba Monitor, one of the most circulated English language newspapers in South Sudan, was arrested on July 16, after publishing an opinion piece critical of both, President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. Taban was released on bail last Friday, July 29.
In his article Taban blamed the two men for failing to meet the aspirations of South Sudanese and asked them to step down.
Taban, who is also the head of the Association of Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), says he was detained in what he describes as “terrible conditions”.
“There were a lot of mosquitoes and I was not allowed a mosquito net so I was bitten by mosquitoes – so eventually I got malaria. Also they were not giving me any food,” Taban says. His close family members, in particular his wife, were not allowed to see him, he says.
Taban, who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, says his health condition will not affect his work. “I will continue to write strong opinions so long as I see things are not going well,” he says. “My work as a journalist is to write the truth and to make suggestion about how things can be improved.”
Taban says he is worried about the deteriorating media freedoms in the country and encourages young journalists not to practice self-censorship. “I always tell them to be courageous even if they face arrest” and “to inform the public what is happening and to come up with suggestions on how the country can move forward”.
He blames the South Sudan Media Authority, a body responsible for settling media-related disputes, for not doing their work. He says officials from the Media Authority only came to check on him during his last day in prison.
“It is crucial for a country seeking to establish peace and stability that it takes active steps to encourage freedom of expression for everyone,” said David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, referring to the recently installed transitional Government. “Any pressure against journalists based on the content of their reporting represents regressive steps that South Sudan cannot afford to take.”
Taban remains hopeful journalists’ rights will one day be respected in South Sudan. “Media has a chance of growing if they [journalists] stand up for their rights,” he says.
South Sudan has fallen 15 rankings to 140 out of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. Press freedoms in South Sudan have deteriorated because of the more than two-year-long conflict.
At least nine journalists have been killed since South Sudan has gained independence in July 2011.
Two journalists were killed during violent clashes last month – a cameraman working with the Presidency was killed in a crossfire, and John Gatluak Manguet Nhial, a journalist and radio manager for Internews, was killed on July 11, by “unknown gunmen”.