JUBA - South Sudanese journalists voted unanimously Friday to down tools for 24 hours to protest the killing of reporter Peter Moi, who was gunned down in Juba this week.
The media blackout took effect from 11 a.m. Juba time, and affected all events across the country.
"We hope to raise awareness among the readers and listeners of radios and newspapers in South Sudan that we journalists are not happy with the way the government has been handling things, and to put pressure on the government to move quickly to get the killer of this boy,” the chair of the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), Alfred Taban, said.
Journalists also hope their protest will get President Kiir to explain what he meant with a threatening statement he made to the media before he left Sunday for Addis Ababa.
Kiir said at Juba International Airport: “Freedom of the press does not mean that you work against your country. If anybody does not know that this country will kill people, we will demonstrate on them.”
Mr. Kiir was supposed to sign a deal in the Ethiopian capital to end the 20-month war in South Sudan, but refused. One event that appeared to fall victim to the media blackout was a rally in Juba that was called by a pro-government group to show support for Mr. Kiir's refusal to sign the peace deal.
Only a handful of demonstrators -- and no journalists -- showed up for the rally.
Taban said the media have faced increasing harassment and had to deflect numerous threats and shutdowns in recent days. Two newspapers -- The Citizen and Al Rai – and Dutch media group Free Voice have been shut down by government security forces in the past two weeks. Kiir’s statement and Moi’s death came hard on the heels of those closures.
The international community condemned what it called increasing violence and intimidation against journalists in South Sudan.
State Department spokesman John Kirby extended condolences to the slain reporter's family and called on President Kiir to retract the statement he made Sunday before leaving for peace talks in Addis Ababa.
Kirby said the United States is "obviously deeply concerned" by President Kiir’s satement "and we call on him to disavow those words."
But a spokesman for South Sudan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mawien Makol Arik, said the president had not said anything "antagonistic" against journalists.
Makol said journalists in South Sudan enjoy the right to freely express themselves.
"We are a democraticcountry. Journalism is free here," he told South Sudan in Focus.
"All the media house express their views, and they talk freely about the government, about their opinion with the peace process. The government has no interference with that whatsoever," he said.
Around two weeks before Moi was shot dead, government security forces shut down two newspapers and a Dutch media group.
Like the United States, other members of the international community do not see the state of journalism in South Sudan through the same eyes as Makol.
The German Federal Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Christoph Straesser, said he was deeply shocked by Moi's death and called the intimidation of South Sudanese journalists unacceptable.
?"This gives us great concern," Straesser said in a statement. "It cannot be that people who are committed to peaceful coexistence, transparency and truth are persecuted and intimidated."
Irina Bokova, the director general of the United Nations' cultural organization, UNESCO, called for Moi's killing to be thoroughly investigated.
"Citizens rely on the media to make informed choices, which is why journalists must be able to practice their profession in safe conditions," she said.
Moi was shot several times by as yet unknown assailants. A funeral service for Moi is expected to be held Saturday in his hometown of Kajo Keji, around 45 miles outside Juba.
Ayen Bior contributed to this report.