August 16, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudanese security agents on Saturday stormed the Catholic-owned Bakhita 91FM radio in the capital, Juba, arresting four of its journalists and shutting down the station.
- A newspaper vendor in South Sudan’s capital, Juba (Photo: Cafod)
The crackdown came after the station broadcast news about Friday’s renewed fighting between the rebels and pro-government forces in Unity and Jonglei states, also confirmed by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Those arrested included radio director, Albino Tokwaro, news editor David Ocen and two news readers. The incident reportedly occurred at around 8am (local time).
Both rival forces blamed each other for the outbreak of the clashes, which came just days after a UN Security Council (UNSC) delegation visited the country hit by violence late last year.
Journalists in South Sudan often face arrest and detention over coverage of security issues in a country, which still lacks media laws.
JOURNALISTS PROTEST ARRESTS
Anger is building up amongst South Sudanese media industry over the frequency of arrest targeting independent journalists by the government agents, despite the existence of constitutional provision recognising the significance of press freedom and freedom of expression.
“I think time it has come for the people to talk. The frequency of targeted arrest is unbecoming and I think our people should come out to tell the government that it has crossed the red line of basic rights. People can’t take a back seat and watch those who are mistreating journalists now and then. They should be told they are wrong and they need to stop,” an angry South Sudanese journalist, who preferred anonymity, told Sudan Tribune on Saturday.
Sources say security agents were irked over a radio report, which gave the rebels’ version of the events concerning Friday’s fighting in an attempt to balance a story which, included what government forces stated.
“It seems the security personnel only wanted the version of the government and because we covered both sides, they became annoyed,” a member of the station told Sudan Tribune on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from security agents.
Of the four arrested, three were later released, while the news editor remains in custody.
DOWNPLAYING THE INCIDENT
Paul Jacob, the acting director general in the information and broadcasting ministry, said he was not aware of the journalists’ arrest since the station’s management did not report the matter to his ministry.
“I have no idea about this development. This is the first time I am hearing it from you. I was in the meeting and nobody had told me this information when I came out. I did not receive any call from Bakhita radio,” Jacob said in a separate interview.
Presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny also said he was not aware of the arrests.
“I am not aware about this. When [did] it happen?” he asked.
But Nhial Bol Aken, the chief editor of the Citizen newspaper, said he was not surprised by the arrest of the Bakhita journalists, claiming government has no intention to allow press freedom prevail in the country.
“I am not surprised. This was expected. The government does not have any intention to abide by the constitution and uphold the freedom of press and the freedom of expression. Those who say they are committed [to this freedom] put it in their mouths,” Aken told Sudan Tribune.
The veteran journalist said government should have gone to court instead of using security personnel to intimidate and harass journalists when courts could handle such matters.
“Issues to do with journalism are always treated as civil matters and are handled under civil law in any country. If the government feels it has issue with any particular media house, the best way to do it is going to court instead of ordering arrest of the journalists and the closure,” said Aken.
Recently, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released a 15-page report detailing abuses against the media by the South Sudanese government, calling on the National Security Service (NSS) to “stop seizing and shutting down newspapers, as well as harassing, intimidating and unlawfully detaining journalists”.