Prominent South Sudanese activist and economist Peter Biar Ajak prepares to embrace his wife Nyathon Hoth Mai, left, as she weeps after he was sentenced to two years in prison, in a courtroom in the capital Juba, South Sudan Tuesday, June 11, 2019…
Prominent South Sudanese activist and economist Peter Biar Ajak talks to his wife Nyathon Hoth Mai, left, after he was sentenced to two years in prison, in a courtroom in the capital Juba, South Sudan, June 11, 2019.

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - South Sudan's high court in Juba sentenced a prominent peace activist and economist Tuesday to two years in prison after he was accused of inciting an uprising while behind bars in the notorious "Blue House" prison. 

Nyathon Hotmai, the wife of peace activist and economist Peter Biar Ajak, broke down in tears as Judge Sumaiya Saleh Abdallah announced Biar's sentence.

Abdallah said Ajak violated various sections of the South Sudan Penal code charging him with disturbing the peace because he gave interviews to foreign media after he was arrested on treason charges that were subsequently dropped.

Kerbino Wol, a businessman, and Peter Biar Ajak, the South Sudan country director for the London School of Economics International Growth Centre based in Britain, stand in the dock inside the courtroom in Juba
Kerbino Wol, a businessman, and Peter Biar Ajak, the South Sudan country director for the London School of Economics International Growth Center based in Britain, stand in the dock inside the courtroom in Juba.

South Sudanese businessman and philanthropist Kerbino Wol received a combined 13 years for allegedly leading the uprising. Four other men received five years in prison. Lawyers for Ajak and Wol vowed to appeal.

Philip Anyang, the lawyer who represented Ajak, said his client got in trouble for speaking to VOA during the uprising.

"The court deviated from the principles of law. Peter was expressing himself in the first instance because he is being charged for speaking to VOA. And if that is the case then the right of freedom of expression is on trial here. If the court forgets that these are constitutional rights under the constitution, as long as you are not infringing on someone's rights, these are entitlements that Peter is entitled to," Anyang told South Sudan in Focus.

Abdallah said Ajak's interview with VOA last October during the uprising at the National Security headquarters, also known as the "Blue House," caused public disorder.

The 34-year-old Ajak, who worked as an economist for the World Bank, was detained in July after making comments critical of the government and opposition leaders for failing to end the five-year conflict.

Ajak's lead defense lawyer, Ajak Mayol Bior, said "everything" is on their side.

"It has never been proven that these people actually shot a single bullet, they are actually the victims. They were terrorized, they were shot at and they were brought before the court only for them not to be protected by the court," Bior told South Sudan in Focus.

Ajak's wife said her heart goes out to the families of the other convicted men.

"These are people with families and I have seen what their families have been going through. And for them to go through that long period of time it is heart breaking," Hotmai told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.

All of the men initially were arrested or detained for different reasons. Some were never officially charged with a crime until well after the uprising.