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South Sudan Media Regulator Bans Press Groups, Raising Censorship Fears

FILE - Stacks of South Sudanese newspapers sit on shelves in the office of the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) in Juba.

South Sudan's media regulator has suspended all press associations in the country while they register for licenses to operate, journalists said, a move that raised concern about a possible crackdown on independent media.

The directive, handed to South Sudan's three associations this week and seen by Reuters on Wednesday, gave them seven days until Nov. 7 to obtain operations licenses or face permanent closure.

"We have applied, but we do not know whether our application will be accepted or not," said Mary Ajith, chairwoman of the Association of Media Development in South Sudan, a grouping of journalists. "This is ... harassment from the media authority that is being done to us."

Officials from both the government information and the National Communication Authority were not immediately available for comment.

Another journalist said the directive would give the National Communication Authority powers to "command every single activity with the support from the national security agency."

The move is the latest example of what rights activists say is an increasingly hostile and restrictive approach by the government toward the press in the world's youngest country.

In July, four news websites and blogs — including the Dutch-backed radio station and website Radio Tamazuj — were either blocked or had transmissions partially restricted.

Foreign correspondents have also faced difficulties in reporting from South Sudan, with at least 20 reporters being denied entry by authorities early this year.

Since its establishment in 2015, journalists in South Sudan say the body has made it extremely difficult to obtain permits to travel outside the capital, Juba, on reporting trips. It also requires prior permission for filming, at a hefty cost.

South Sudan, which won independence from Sudan in 2011, plunged into civil conflict in December 2013.