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March 13, 2013

South Sudan Journalist Arrested Over Editorial

by Mugume Davis Rwakaringi

A veteran South Sudanese journalist says he was arrested and held in "very difficult conditions" after running an opinion piece that was critical of a former state governor.

Alfred Taban, chief editor of The Juba Monitor, says he was detained last week and held for about three hours at a police station after the paper ran an editorial piece by a resident of Rumbek, alleging that former Lakes state Governor Chol Tong Mayay misappropriated public funds.

“I was... served with an arrest warrant and then placed in very difficult conditions... [in] a room about three yards by five yards," Taban said.

"It was full of goods; there were sacks of sugar, tins of sugar and other commodities. It was not really for human beings. It was just something like a store for stolen goods and things like that.”

Taban has said he is also being sued by Mayay for defamation.

His arrest came less than a month after South Sudan agreed to be a pilot country for a United Nations program to create a free and safe environment for media workers. One of the changes called for in the U.N. plan is for defamation to be decriminalized.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on Tuesday condemned Taban's arrest, saying in a statement that the journalist was treated like a criminal and held in "very inhumane conditions."

"Citizens must be allowed to express their views in the public interest as this is what guarantees good governance, accountability and probity," the IFJ statement said.

The Union for Journalists in South Sudan (UJOSS) says at least 10 journalists have been detained without charge in South Sudan in the last two months.

Neither the Minister of Information, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, nor his deputy, Atem Yak Atem, were available for comment.