Christopher was arrested when he complied with instructions to report to NSS headquarters in Juba on 17 July, two days after airport security agents prevented him from boarding a flight to Nairobi and confiscated his passport. He has not as yet been charged and has not been allowed access to a lawyer.
An outspoken journalist and editor of one of South Sudan’s few privately-owned newspapers, Christopher ran afoul of the country’s Media Authority last January over his coverage of the protests in neighbouring Sudan, which was regarded as overly sympathetic towards the protesters.
In response to a complaint from the Sudanese embassy in Juba, Al-Watan was banned from covering the unrest in Sudan altogether, and Christopher fled to Egypt temporarily as a safety measure. The Media Authority then issued an order in March suspending Al-Watan for an initial period of a month but the suspension is still in effect.
“Michael Christopher’s arbitrary detention, with no grounds being given, shows that the authorities are subjecting him and his newspaper to the most blatant persecution,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “More broadly, it constitutes a new warning to all journalists who still retain some independence and ability to speak out in a country smothered by censorship. We call for his immediate and unconditional release.”
South Sudan has been devastated by civil war since 2013, and its journalists find it hard to report the news because they are closely watched and subjected to frequent intimidation by the authorities. Last April, Eye Radio, the country’s only independent radio station, described how attacks, threats and closures obstruct the media’s work.
NSS agents sometimes swoop on printing presses in order to censor specific content. At least five of the newspaper Al-Mouqif’s articles have been suppressed in this way since the start of the year.
Marial Wen Deng, the director of the Catholic Church radio station Good News Radio, was told in a letter from the head of the NSS at the start of July that all interviews and all story subjects would henceforth require NSS prior approval.
South Sudan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.