JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - Pro-government protesters beat at least two journalists Tuesday in South Sudan's capital. One of the journalists, a female Westerner, was repeatedly struck in the face.
Hundreds of people — including youths, women and tribal chiefs —denounced the U.S. decision last week to restrict arms transfers to South Sudan. The South Sudan Council of Chiefs organized the demonstrations, and some of its members rode on trucks through Juba's streets, urging residents to protest.
Eyewitnesses said the violence, which happened outside the UNMISS (U.N. Mission in South Sudan) compound near Juba International Airport, mostly involved youths who seemed to vent their anger at foreign nationals.
The female journalist who was assaulted declined to disclose her identity but told South Sudan In Focus that angry youths had hit her repeatedly in the face, tried to strangle her and wrestled her to the ground. Her arms, neck and face were bruised.
Gale Julius, a South Sudanese journalist for Bakhita Radio, was also assaulted. He said the protests started out peacefully but soon turned violent.
"The youths started throwing stones at the roof at the gate of UNMISS," he said. "Then we heard shouting. And when I turned, I saw that they were beating someone.
"I was standing far [away], but I could see the beating, which went on at least for three to five minutes. That's my own assessment before the police could reach and rescue the lady. I really got scared because the youths were many — more than 20 people in a circle shouting and hitting the lady, who was lying down," he said.
Julius told VOA he thought Tuesday's violence was not aimed at journalists, but at a white person perceived to be American.
The Trump administration announced unilateral arms restrictions on South Sudan last week to try to pressure the Juba government to end a conflict that has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and has displaced more than 4 million people.
Juba immediately recalled its ambassador to the U.S. after the arms restrictions were announced.
"We are demanding the government of the United States of America review this decision because as people of South Sudan, we are ready to tell America that what you did cannot help in achieving peace in South Sudan," Chief Taban Luka, one of the protest organizers, told South Sudan in Focus.
Tuesday's protest was unusual in South Sudan, where the administration of President Salva Kiir does not allow street protests. In December, national security agents questioned some female leaders for organizing a march for peace.