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South Sudan Government Dials Back Kiir Threat Against Journalists

  • Philip Aleu

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir (R), shown delivering a speech to lawmakers, has retracted a statement that was widely perceived as a threat against journalists.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir (R), shown delivering a speech to lawmakers, has retracted a statement that was widely perceived as a threat against journalists.

Three days after reporter Peter Moi was shot and killed in the South Sudan capital, the government dialed back a statement in which President Salva Kiir threatened to kill journalists who do not toe the official line.

Mr. Kiir's office said Saturday that the president had been "quoted out of context" when he said, shortly before departing for Addis Ababa from Juba a week earlier, "Freedom of the press does not mean that you work against your country. If anybody does not know that this country will kill people, we will demonstrate on them.”

"This was just a reminder to South Sudanese journalists, not a threat ... against journalists as it was distorted," the presidency said in a statement. "Nothing shall harm a journalist when he/she is going about his/her journalistic profession."

Days after reporter slain

The retraction was issued the day that reporter Peter Moi was laid to rest in his home town of Kajo Keji, around 45 miles outside of the capital.

Moi's body was found in a residential area of Juba last Wednesday. He had been shot several times, including in the back. None of his possessions were taken.

South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei said Monday the government "is not a party to the death of a journalist."

"All the people who are dying here in Juba are being killed by the criminals, are not by the government," Makuei said.

Moi was a reporter for The Corporate newspaper. Mr. Kiir made his threat to journalists on the Sunday before Moi was killed.

International condemnation

The international commuinity last week condemned Moi's killing and called on South Sudan to stop threatening and intimidating journalists.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby called on Mr. Kiir to retract his threat to journalists.

Germany's Federal Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Christoph Straesser, said he was deeply shocked by Moi's death and called the intimidation of South Sudanese journalists unacceptable.

​Irina Bokova, the director general of the United Nations' cultural organization, UNESCO, called for Moi's killing to be thoroughly investigated.

"Citizens rely on the media to make informed choices, which is why journalists must be able to practice their profession in safe conditions," she said.

Moi is the seventh journalist to be killed this year in South Sudan. No suspects have been arrested in his death. Makuei said an official investigation is under way.

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