A South Sudan-based media rights watchdog says journalists there are facing increasing intimidation and harassment before landmark national elections scheduled to begin on April 11th.
The Agency for Independent Media says since January, security forces in South Sudan have been clamping down on local media for broadcasting or printing content not approved by government officials.
Earlier this month, armed government security men in the southern capital, Juba, forced privately-owned Liberty FM radio to briefly shut down after the station aired interviews with the campaign team for an independent candidate running for governor of Central Equatoria state.
Another Juba radio station, run by the Roman Catholic Church, was also warned to stay away from politics and to broadcast only religious programs.
The head of the Agency for Independent Media, David De Dau, tells VOA that Juba is not the only place where media freedom is under attack. He says journalists in states across southern Sudan are being threatened with violence because they are viewed, not as key players in the development of democracy, but as spies or agents for parties opposed to the government.
"A number of journalists are actually harassed, intimidated, beaten, and even detained. Southern Sudan has 10 states and all across these 10 states, you will at least have one case in a month, [here] a journalist has been harassed or his equipment confiscated or broken or beaten or something like that. It happens so frequently," said Dau.
The government of South Sudan has not responded to the allegations of media censorship and rights violations.
But analysts say the party that controls most of southern Sudan, the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement, is aware that many people in the oil-rich south are concerned about rampant government graft, widely blamed for the lack of development in the region.
Two days ago, the only challenger to South Sudan's incumbent President Salva Kiir in next month's national elections, Lam Akol, kicked off his election campaign, promising to deliver more services and to fight corruption. More than 1,000 people in attendance cheered wildly during his speech.
The SPLM has led South Sudan since 2005, when it signed a peace accord with the government in Khartoum to end two decades of civil war. Next month's vote, the first multi-party elections in Sudan in 24 years, is crucial to the success of the accord and to the chances of Sudan reaching long-term stability.
Under the provisions of the peace accord, the South will hold a referendum in January on whether to secede from the North. In recent months, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement has been running a fierce campaign to make sure the South remains united under its leadership.