“He was manhandled by the security guys who tore his trousers to the extent of nearly exposing his underpants to the public,” said a journalist who witnessed the scuffle in South Sudan’s Parliament when Mading Ngor, New Sudan Vision editor-in-chief and the host of the popular ’Wake Up Juba’ show on Bakhita FM, was assaulted and humiliated at South Sudan’s parliament, February 06, 2012 [Sudan Tribune].
||Frosty Relationship between the New Government of South Sudan and the Media.pdf
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By PaanLuel Wël
Is the national News Media under siege in the new Republic of South Sudan? Are South Sudanese journalists too nosy, inquisitive, unprincipled and too ready and willing to make mountains out of molehills from minor altercations with the faithful law enforcement officers and well-intentioned politicians? To the government of South Sudan, the latter is the case while the former is true for South Sudanese journalists and writers.
These questions, among others, underpin the reason why South Sudan has yet to enact media law on South Sudanese constitutional right of access to information, Freedom of the Press and freedom of speech, seven years after the formation of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) in 2005. According to Dr. Hakim Moi, the executive director of The Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), three media bills (the Right to Information Bill, South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation Bill and Media Authority Bill) have stalled between the offices of the Ministry of Information, Council of Ministers and South Sudan National Legislative Assembly.
This premeditated failure by South Sudan National Legislative Assembly (SSNLA) to pass those three media bills on Freedom of the Press and freedom of speech has vastly undermined not only the viability but also the independence of the Freedom of the Press in South Sudan. Consequently, lack of a clear-cut media law has curtailed South Sudan journalists’ access to information and freedom of expression. Secondly, and most worryingly, the absence of constitutionally mandated media law has allowed the new government of South Sudan to borrow from and inherit Khartoum’s old oppressive media practices of unlawful detention and harassment of journalists and other free-thinking public intellectuals.
So far, among those South Sudanese who have had the misfortune to cross paths with the authorities are Nhial Bol of the Citizen News, Dengdit Ayok of the Destiny newspaper, Dr. James Okuk who is a freelance writer and a fierce critic of the government, Ngor Garang and Manyang Mayom of Sudan Tribune, Mac Ajuei Panchol from Bor, Richard Mogga and Badru Mulumba of the New Times, Ojja William Benjamin from Eastern Equatoria State, and the latest victim, Mading Ngor of New Sudan Vision and Bakhita FM. Not only that, even South Sudan government own undersecretary, Dr. Jok Madut of the ministry of Culture and Heritage, was beaten up on New Year Eve at Wau airport just because he arrived at the same time as the president. This is only the tip of the iceberg as many low-profile media personnel who bear constant harassments and intimidations from the law enforcement agents and grumpy politicians go unreported.
The SPLM/A, the former rebels currently running the new republic of South Sudan, have not always been hostile to the media. In fact, media campaign and propaganda was part and parcel of the Movement. In the ‘liberated areas’ under SPLM/A were found prominent South Sudanese journalists and writers such as Atem Yaak Atem, Jacob Akol, and Joseph Malath Lueth among others. Even in Khartoum, Alfred Taban of Khartoum Monitor, Arop Madut of Sudan Heritage, and Nhial Bol of the Citizen Newspaper were SPLM/A’s darlings during the war of South Sudan independence for the vigorous media campaigns they fearlessly waged against successive Khartoum regimes on behalf of the marginalized people of the Sudan. Dr. John Garang, the late leader of the SPLM/A, was a shrewd and cunning strategist who successfully incorporated and utilized local and international press such as the BBC as a conduit to wage psychological warfare on Khartoum as well as to seek and enlist international sympathy for his cause. Even today in Juba, the nouveau riche SPLM/A generals and ministers cannot get enough of media attention particularly when it is favorable to them.
But that symbiotic relationship between the media and the former rebels had dramatically shifted after the end of the war. No sooner did the SPLM/A assumes power in Juba than they started acting like the old Sudanese regime in relation to the news media. The first casualty was none other than Nhial Bol Aken of the Citizen newspaper, the former darling of the SPLM/A during the war against consecutive Khartoum regimes. The motto of the Citizen newspaper “Fighting Corruption and Dictatorship” places it squarely in the cross-hairs of the SPLM/A generals because corruptions and dictatorship were and are still the pillars of leadership in Juba. In 2007, Bol was arrested when his newspaper exposed a “wasteful spending at the finance ministry, which purchased 153 cars for government officials. The price tag was $60 million—a staggering $400,000 per vehicle” [Gregg Carlstrom: Aljazeera].
On June 12, 2011, just before South Sudan independence, the editor-in-chief of The Citizen newspaper, Nhial Bol “was arrested on his way from a dinner party organized by the British Consulate in Juba at a hotel called Da Vinci, south of Juba’s main town…[and was] threatened to back down from his activity or risk dying before July 9”—South Sudan Independence Day [SouthSudanNet]. On October 1, 2011, Bol was arrested for the fourth time by police before being released “following his newspaper’s investigations into the business dealings” of a Warrap state minister, Joseph Malek Arop, who was reported to have unlawfully acquired 10% stake in the Chinese oil company Tesco South Sudan Ltd. [Sudan Tribune].
So routine have Bol’s summons, arrests and detentions become that he has developed a philosophy for it:
“I have been arrested and detained 38 times since 2000. As regards summons by the security agents, I have lost count of them. Sometimes they would summon me four times a day to their offices for questioning, before releasing me. It’s part of the game — they are trying to frustrate us” [Nhial Bol’s quote].
The other journalist who has received his fair share of the violence against Free Press is Manyang Mayom of the Sudan Tribune, Khartoum Monitor and Gurtong.net:
“In February 2008, Mayom was badly beaten by a militia loyal to Paulino Matip whose soldiers had merged with the SPLA.” As reported by the blog ‘Commsfeli.wordpress.com,’ Mayom “has been beaten, arrested, intimidated and harassed on numerous occasions by security services in southern Sudan while investigating sensitive stories…There were occasions in which Manyang Mayom was so badly beaten; he had to be taken to the Sudanese capital Khartoum for treatment, with several repercussions with regards to his injured kidneys. He has also been accused of being a spy as well.”[ His bravery and commitment to the Freedom of the Press was recognized when he was] “awarded for his ‘commitment to free expression and courage in the face of political persecution’ with a Hellman/Hammett grant by Human Rights Watch on August 4, 2010” [Commsfeli.wordpress.com].
Sometimes, even a single piece of article in a newspaper is sufficient enough to land a writer in prison. For example, Dengdit Ayok of The Destiny and Ngor Arol Garang of Sudan Tribune and The Destiny were forcefully detained on November 05, 2011, over a column article (Nyan-Bany) in The Destiny written by Dengdit Ayok, questioning the rationale behind President Kiir’s daughter’s marriage to a foreigner. Director General of the South Sudan’s National Security Services (NSS), Gen. Akol Koor, accused the two gentlemen plus the newspaper of “non-adherence to the media code of conduct and professional ethics and of publishing illicit news that was defamatory, inciting, and invading the privacy of personalities” [Committee to Protect Journalists]. Mr. Garang was reportedly tortured in jail before both of them were released at the mercy of the President and his family—having taught them a lesson according to the report.
It was the same problem that befell Dr. James Okuk on October 21, 2011 when he was arrested, five hours after his arrival in Juba from Brazil where he was the country ambassador, for allegedly “writing against President Salva Kiir on the internet.” Of the five articles assembled by the CID, the most damning one was an article titled “South Sudan Paradox: Joyful Independence, Sorry Leadership” written on the eve of South Sudan independence [South Sudan News Agency]. And just like the case of Ngor Garang and Dengdit Ayok, Dr. James Okuk was released too without charges but with stern warning to moderate his views and behave well.
Just this year, in January, the New Times editor, Richard Mogga and his counterpart, Badru Mulumba, were quietly “picked up by people claiming to be police.” Mr. Badru Mulumba was blamed for reportedly “defaming [minister] Jemma Nunu in Juba” [Brian Adeba]. As a custom in South Sudan, both gentlemen were later freed without charges filed.
However, the most brazen assault of all was the one directed at Dr. Jok Madut Jok. Unlike other victims of security violence, Dr. Jok is a deputy minister in the government of South Sudan, a professor of African studies in the department of history at Loyola Marymount University—USA, and a senior fellow at the United State Institute of Peace in Washington DC, USA. And because Dr. Jok is from the same Warrap State as the president, he was transitioning home for the New Year celebration, arriving at the same time as the president at Wau Aiport:
This morning [Dec 31, 2011], on New Year’s eve, I arrived in Wau, hoping to celebrate with my family, I had the misfortune of arriving at Wau airport on the same day that our President was also due there, coming from his Christmas holiday in Akon [president hometown]. As soon as I landed and tried to get into the car that was waiting for me, myself and my two brothers who came to pick me up were attacked by an SPLA unit, supposedly stationed there to secure the airport for our President. I was brutally attacked, my arms tight by several men, a blow to the side of my head with the butt of a gun and several punches straight onto both of my eyes; no questions asked, not even any accusations of wrong doing. I was tortured properly while I had quickly shown the soldiers my identity card, demonstrating that I am a senior official in the national government, undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture, [but] the ID was thrown away and several men wrestled me to the ground [PaanLuel Wel: South Sudanese Blogger].
As if the beating was not enough, the officer in charge started touting the good professor:
As I was seated on the floor, being interrogated, several drunken soldiers, the ones “protecting” our leader, kept interrupting their officer with really unsoldierly behavior. And instead of the officer reprimanding them, he told me “you see, they may be drunk, but that is how we liberated this country.” There is that phrase, so commonly used as justification for misconduct. “We liberated it” is now thrown in your face left and right, even if it means taking the liberty to be drunk on the job, loot public property, claim entitlement for a job one is not qualified for, beat or even shoot to kill civilians over nonsense [PaanLuel Wel: South Sudanese Blogger].
Although the government did try to distance itself from the incident and promised full investigation into the incident, nothing of substance has been made public so far and Professor Jok, just like Manyang Mayom with his kidney problem, is still nursing his wounds. He was rushed to Nairobi, Kenya afterward for his eyes problem.
But in order to wholly appreciate the full magnitude of the pathetic condition of journalism in South Sudan, you must listen to one Benjamin. The flight of South Sudanese journalists is well captured by Ojja William Benjamin, a freelance journalist from Eastern Equatoria State, as he was speaking to Ngor Arol Garang of Sudan Tribune, who is himself a victim of harassment and unlawful detention:
“It is becoming a habit these days that journalists are picked up and arrested by the powerful individual government officials and released without charges after spending long times in jails. This is not acceptable. The government needs to stop this practice…I thought journalists in Juba were more safe [than] those of us in the bush. Some of us in the states are arrested even for something [we] did not do because of being a journalist. Hearing the title [that guy is a journalist] alone by some local officials invite arrest. I have been arrested thrice this year  and released without charges… “I am sometimes told not [to] leave my house. Some of my colleagues have had press cards withdrawn and torn at our watch which is unacceptable and I thought this is a practice being experienced by journalists living outside the national capital” [Ngor Arol Garang: Sudan Tribune].
But as the latest humiliating assault on Mading Ngor Akech, the New Sudan Vision’s editor-in-chief and the host of the popular ’Wake Up Juba’ show on Bakhita, demonstrates, South Sudan has got a long way to go before the fourth arm of the government (the media)—the rest being the executive, the legislature and the judiciary—could claim its rightful place in Juba. But if past trends are anything to go by, then the wanton assault on the New Sudan Vision’s editor-in-chief may not be the last any time soon.
The very media and penmanship that dutifully served the SPLM/A during the dark days of the long civil war has now become so reviled that the new government of the republic of South Sudan seems to have declared a total war on it. Yet, if SPLM/A was fighting for a free, democratic nation in which freedom of expression, speech and of the Press are guaranteed, protected and promoted, and is still presently advocating for the same goal as it is enshrined in South Sudan interim constitution, then the government of the republic of South Sudan must pass the three impending media bills without further delay.
South Sudan has enough of its internal and external conundrums to wrestle with; it does not have the luxury, nor can it afford, to manufacture new ones.
||Frosty Relationship between the New Government of South Sudan and the Media.pdf
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Paanluel Wël is the Managing Editor of PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese blogger. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his blog or twitter account.