South Sudan still holding two of seven journalists arrested in January
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the release of two public TV journalists still held in South Sudan in connection with video footage showing the president apparently wetting himself. Of the seven journalists and technicians with the South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC) arrested by the National Security Service (NSS) in early January, they are the only two still held following the release of two others on 14 March.
The two who have just been freed, Victor Ladu and Mustafa Osman, were held arbitrarily for more than two months. Their release was preceded by that of Joseph Oliver, Cherbek Ruben and Joval Tombe on 19 January. The two still held are Jacob Benjamin and Garang John, who are now in their third month of detention without being officially charged. The seven were arrested by the NSS on different dates between 3 and 16 January.
We are relieved to know that these five journalists have been released after their arbitrary arrest in January. But Jacob Benjamin and Garang John are still being held. We call on the authorities to release them immediately and to ensure that journalists in South Sudan can work without being intimidated or arrested.
These seven SSBC employees were providing live TV coverage of President Salva Kiir inaugurating a highway in the south of the country on 12 December when a wet patch was seen to spread across the president’s trousers. The footage of the president appearing to lose bladder control then went viral on social media and was picked up by many media outlets, which used it as grounds for questioning the state of his health.
The seven journalists and technicians covering this public event were suspected of being responsible for releasing the footage. The authorities said they were arrested as part of an investigation. Although messaged several times, NSS spokesman David Kamuri never confirmed to RSF that charges were brought against them.
Benjamin and John have not been transferred to a prison and are still being held at NSS headquarters, where they have had little or no access to their families. Benjamin has been allowed no visits, while John has been allowed two. South Sudan Union of Journalists president Patrick Oyet told RSF that the lawyer appointed to defend them when they were arrested has still not been allowed any access to them.
Repeated press freedom violations
Journalists are often harassed in South Sudan. Three Radio Jonglei journalists were arrested in August 2021 on suspicion of sympathising with the People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) and were accused of broadcasting a call for a protest that was to have taken place when parliament was opened on the 30th of that month.
As President Kiir gave a speech at the opening ceremony, an Al Jazeera reporter was briefly detained during an argument with security agents, and two other journalists were threatened and roughed up. A few weeks before that, an SSBC news anchor was arbitrarily detained for more than two weeks after refusing to read out part of a presidential announcement on the air.
RSF has always called for an official investigation into British-American freelance journalist Christopher Allen’s death on 26 August 2017 while covering civil war clashes in the south of the country. But the lack of political will was displayed yet again in November 2022 when information minister Michael Makuei Lueth, in a statement to the media, said that Allen “entered South Sudan illegally” and that “we have killed a white rebel because he was killed on the side of rebels.”
By these comments, he seemed to be implying that, since Allen was not in an area controlled by the government, the government could not be held responsible for his death. RSF expressed its outrage at the minister’s comments at the time and called on the government to say whether they represented its official position. No response has been obtained from the government despite being pressed repeatedly by RSF.