JUBA - South Sudan's National Security Service has shut down the Arabic-language Al Rai newspaper, the second paper and third media group to be ordered to cease operations in the space of a few days.
Al Rai's editor-in-chief, Michael Wazir, confirmed to South Sudan in Focus that the paper was ordered over the weekend to cease operations. Wazir was unwilling to go into detail about the closure, saying he is working with the government to try to resolve any issues they have with Al Rai so that the newspaper can resume publication.
Alfred Taban, the head of the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), said the shutdown was reportedly ordered after an Al Rai board member went to Nairobi to join Riek Machar’s SPLM-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) group.
Taban said government sources told AMDISS that the paper was ordered to cease operations because a media house affiliated with the SPLM-IO cannot be allowed to operate in South Sudan.
Information Minister Michael Makuei was unavailable for comment.
The announcement that Al Rai has been shut down by the government came hours after popular English-language daily, The Citizen, was ordered by the National Security Service to cease publication.
Dutch media group Free Voice was also told on Tuesday to shutter its compound in Juba and halt operations.
South Sudan in Focus journalists work from the Free Voice compound.
No reasons have been given for any of the orders to close.
In a statement released Wednesday, AMDISS said the forced closure of Al Rai was "a clear indication of press censorship, intimidation and violation of media laws, which guarantee the freedom of expression, press and media."
Three media laws that were signed last year by President Salva Kiir are supposed to make it easier for journalists to access information and guarantee their right to work without interference or censorship. ?
But reporters and rights groups say that journalists' rights have been severely eroded since South Sudan plunged into conflict in December 2013.
Media rights group the Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) East Africa researcher Tom Rhodes said the latest crackdown on the media appears to be targeting groups that have been critical of President Kiir's administration or carried reports that are not to the government's liking.
Rhodes said that by shutting down media groups, the government is violating South Sudan's constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.