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South Sudan Frees UN Journalist After Two-year Detention


South Sudan's President Salva Kiir is shown in the capital, Juba, May 18, 2017. Several rights groups had petitioned Kiir to intervene and release detained journalist George Livio.

South Sudanese authorities released a journalist Thursday who had been detained without charges since August 22, 2014.

George Livio, who worked for the U.N.-sponsored Miraya FM radio station, had been arrested by national security operatives and detained at an unknown location.

The U.N. did not immediately provide a reason for Livio's release, though the U.N. mission in South Sudan had been pushing for his freedom and that of two other staff members.

Several rights groups, including Amnesty International, had petitioned President Salva Kiir to intervene and release Livio.

VOA's South Sudan in Focus reached Gelego Livio, the journalist's father, by phone Friday in Khartoum.

"I got the news … about half past 5 yesterday evening. He was released about midday, possibly," Livio said.

Livio told South Sudan in Focus that he never received a reason for his son's arrest from the government, but heard that the government thought he was "collaborating with Riek Machar," the former first vice president who fled Juba shortly after a fresh outbreak of deadly fighting occurred in the capital in July.

The elder Livio said he and his wife were granted one visit with their son in March 2016. He said George Livio was being held at a Juba hospital.

Livio said he learned from his maternal uncle in Juba that his son had been freed Thursday.

"We, his mother and I, had a very, very exciting time last evening. Now, we really want to hear his voice," said the father.

South Sudan in Focus directly contacted George Livio on Friday, but he declined to comment and referred the VOA program to the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

A UNMISS spokesman, Daniel Dickinson, applauded Livio's release and urged authorities to free other U.N. staff members in detention.

"The mission calls for the release of its two other national staff members who are currently also being held in detention without trial since 2014. UNMISS continues to call on the South Sudanese authorities to respect national law and the fundamental principles of due process under international human rights law," Dickinson said.

Amnesty International said there has been an increase in illegal detentions since a civil war broke out in the country in 2013.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least five journalists have been killed in South Sudan since the country gained independence in 2011.

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