JUBA - The radio station in Juba that was raided by South Sudan security operatives over the weekend has been ordered by the government not to air political programs.
The director of Bakhita Radio, Albino Tokwaro, said most of the station's programming is about religious and health issues – but its listeners are also very interested in politics and it will be hard to stop airing programs without some sort of political angle.
"What is politics? The whole human being is political -- whether you are in a church or you are not in a church, you are a political being,” he said.
Bakhita Radio is owned by the Catholic church in South Sudan. One of its shows is the popular morning call-in show, Wake up Juba, where listeners interact with guests in the studio. The guests often happen to be politicians.
Michael Thon, the former host of Wake up Juba, said he was threatened twice after he dedicated one-and-a-half hours of a show in December 2012 to the slaying of political commentator Isaiah Abraham. Abraham was gunned down by killers who, nearly two years later, have not been identified.
“I asked ... do the public respect police? Do they help the police to give them information that would help them when they are providing security? Do the police respect the people? And the police leadership was not happy. The police came looking for me," Thon told South Sudan in Focus.
"They were furious... 'Why would you wake up Juba and discuss the institution of the police without contacting them?'” he said.
Thon said he offered the police the right to reply on the show. He thinks that was the reason he was not arrested.
He felt afterwards as if, "I was being supervised... and I had to be careful on what goes on air, It has to be what truth is and it has to be in public interest so that i can only defend myself in the court law.”
Thon said the arrests of journalists and the closure of radio stations is an indication that the media is operating in a hostile environment. But he urged journalists to continue to abide by the rules of their profession and report impartially, objectively, accurately and fairly.
“They should continue to be the bridge between the people and the government,” he said.
Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told South Sudan in Focus on Monday that the story that led to the closure of Bakhita Radio and the detention of four staff members, including news editor David Ocen, breached national security because it blamed government forces for triggering fresh fighting in Jonglei and Unity states by attacking rebel positions.
Three of the Bakhita staff members were only held for a few hours but Ocen remained in detention for four days. Bakhita Radio was still off the air Wednesday - the keys to the station are reportedly still in the hands of national security officials.
Tokwaro said when the station goes back on the air, editors will carefully scrutinize stories to avoid the possibility of them being perceived as a threat to national security.