The South Sudanese government on Wednesday called a news conference to warn journalists not to report "nonsense" after a website erroneously reported that President Salva Kiir had traveled to South Africa for medical treatment.
At the news conference, South Sudan’s chief government spokesman, Michael Makuei Lueth, refuted a report published Sunday on the Paris-based Sudan Tribune website, which said that Kiir had traveled to South Africa for treatment when, in fact, the president had traveled to Kenya for a private visit.
Makuei said the reporter who wrote the story never called him to ask for comment about or details on the president's visit.
"The president never went to South Africa. All that was said about him is... unfounded, it’s baseless and it’s not true,” he said, warning that there would be consequences if journalists "write whatever nonsense you want to write."
Following the Sudan Tribune report, all journalists operating in the country must submit their credentials to the Information Ministry in order to get accreditation, Makuei said, adding that only trained journalists will be allowed to work in the country.
"As of now, we will make a proper checking of all the credentials of journalists. We want qualified journalists who know and understand what journalism is so that when they write they are held responsible for whatever they do and they know the outcome of whatever they write,” he said.
Earlier this year, South Sudan became the first country to adopt a United Nations-backed initiative aimed at creating a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers.
The U.N. plan calls, among other things, for defamation to be decriminalized, for more protection for women journalists "in response to the increasing incidence of sexual harassment and rape," and adequate pay for media workers.
South Sudan ranked 124th out of 179 countries -- 13 places down from the previous ranking -- in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
Veteran South Sudanese journalist Alfred Taban Logune said the decision to crack down on all journalists because of the mistake of one would harm freedom of speech in the young nation.