South Sudan said it will release all political detainees on Friday accused of plotting to overthrow President Salva Kiir’s government after the administration decided to drop the charges against them, according to presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny.
The detainees include Pagan Amum, Secretary General of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Majak D’Agot, Oyai Deng Ajak and Ezekiel Lul Gatkuoth.
Ateny says the government’s decision is part of a bid to expedite the peace negotiations between representatives of the administration and the rebels in neighboring Ethiopia to help resolve the country’s conflict.
“The cabinet has decided to stay the case,” said Ateny. “These are the powers given to the minister of justice under what is called Criminal Procedures Act of 2008 that the minister of justice can order the stay of the case. It means the case is frozen and the people accused can be released indefinitely. This was done [in] the interest of peace.”
The rebels have demanded the release of the detainees as one of their main conditions at the talks. At least ten-thousand people have been killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes.
Ateny says the rebels can no longer use the alleged coup plotters detention as pretext to stall the peace negotiations.
“This is actually significant that the issue of the four suspects of the coup attempt cannot be used by any party as a ploy to stay away from negotiating in good faith,” said Ateny. “So it will not remain as another condition in [the] negotiation. It will bridge the gap between the two parties that are negotiating in Addis Ababa.”
Some political analysts say the government’s decision could have been influenced by pressure from the international community following the recent massacre of South Sudanese who sought refuge at a United Nations compound. The attack at the UN compound left at least 60 people dead and scores injured.
Ateny says the government decision is part of an effort to end the conflict.
“The international community has been calling and we have seen as a government to let us try to release these people if it can give chance for peace to come to South Sudan,” said Ateny.
Ateny denied reports that the decision to release the accused coup plotters was politically motivated. He says once released, the accused could not be re-arrested on the same charges and could be free to participate in any political activity of their choice.
“They cannot be arrested,” said Ateny. “The stay of the case can also pave the way for a presidential amnesty. But, now the four suspects of the coup attempt would be free on Friday,” he said.
Some analysts have questioned the timing of the release of the detainees. They contend that the government could have avoided the loss of lives and property if the alleged coup plotters had been released earlier to help end the conflict. Ateny defended the government decision.
“They were arrested based on the coup attempt. So this is the right time for the suspects to be released for the interest of peace,” said Ateny.