South Sudanese lawyers on Tuesday staged a one-day strike to protest the forced cancellation by national security agents of the first-ever elections to choose leaders of the South Sudan Bar Association.
Peter Mathias, a spokesman for the bar association's electoral committee, said security agents burst in on elections in Juba as lawyers were casting their votes. Ballot boxes were confiscated and a journalist covering the vote was detained for several hours and forced to delete photographs he had taken of the elections, from his camera.
According to Mathias, security agents said they stopped the Juba vote because the organizers had "... no letter of application and approval from the security and the police to go on with the elections.”
Security agents gave the same reason to lawyers in Wau, in Western Bahr el Ghazal state, where Monday's bar association election was cancelled before it even started.
Mathias said the bar association immediately wrote applications to hold elections and submitted them to the Interior Ministry. As of close-of-business Tuesday, they had not had a response.
He said the disruption of the elections in Juba and Wau came out of the blue. Mathias said he travelled to Wau the day before the vote, and "met the deputy governor, and explained to him about our elections. He said he would inform the police and security about the elections. We also went to the legislative assembly."
None of the officials Mathias met in Wau gave any indication that the elections would not be allowed to go ahead, he said.
Violation of rights
South Sudan in Focus was unable to find a reference in South Sudan’s transitional constitution stating that professional bodies need permission from the Interior Ministry to hold an election to choose their internal officers. On the other hand, the constitution does say that the national security service shall "respect the will of the people, the rule of law, civilian authority, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms."
Mathias said the national security agents violated the lawyers' rights by preventing the vote from going ahead. He said the lawyers will resume work on Wednesday.