South Sudan's journalists may be living in a newly independent country, but it seems independence of the press is not greatly prized by the new administration. Two journalists have been arrested this month – and detained without charge – for writing and publishing a controversial opinion piece. It doesn't augur well for media freedom in the world's newest country. By THERESA MALLINSON.
On 31 October The Destiny newspaper published a column criticising the fact that President Salva Kiir’s daughter had married an Ethiopian national. “By giving his daughter to a foreigner, our President has stained his patriotism and turned his leadership questionable in our eyes. This wedding is a demonstration that foreigners have not only monopolised our market, economy and robbed our integrity after penetrating it, but it is also a demonstration that they have taken over our national pride,” read a segment of the column. “What else is left if an alien could penetrate all the hedges and invade the house of our President, elope and impregnate his daughter?”
We most decidedly do not condone such xenophobic rantings, but the government’s reaction was out of order. It arrested editor Peter Ngor Garang, as well as columnist Dengdit Ayok. Both men are currently being detained without charge, notwithstanding the country’s transitional constitution making such actions illegal. The arrests happened despite the fact that the paper was swift to publish an apology to the first family. Publication of The Destiny has also been suspended indefinitely on government orders.
“It’s alarming to see the world’s newest nation already arresting journalists under vaguely worded accusations,” said the Committee to Protect Journalist’s Tom Rhodes. “We call on the authorities to release the journalists and lift the ban on the newspaper.” Amnesty International has made a similar call; we hope the new government is listening. DM
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