On the eve of a major summit to end the political stalemate in South Sudan the head of the South Sudan Media Authority has refused to name the banned journalists and the criteria used to blacklist them. The Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa, FCAEA, has stated that most of those barred are members of its association.
“The decision to ban foreign journalists from reporting on issues in the country is a grave violation of the freedom of expression and the media. Lack of explanation on the criteria used and the specific news items that the Authority finds objectionable also highlights the unconstitutionality of such a move at a time when South Sudanese need the media to highlight the plight of the people amidst the political stalemate that has led to thousands of civilian casualties. ” said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Regional Director.
While the Media Authority claims that there are foreign journalists who provide information that it considers misleading and unsubstantiated, the prevailing operating environment is hostile and restrictive, limiting movement of journalists that is essential in acquiring specific and accurate information.
Under South Sudan’s Media Act 2013, foreign journalists seeking to visit South Sudan require clearing by the Media Authority before a visa is issued. Therefore the unconstitutional denial of media accreditation inhibits both the freedom of movement and freedom of expression of the journalists. On the other hand, it serves the purpose of denying the international community access to South Sudan with regards to ongoings in the country – a critical need in order to revive fizzling international attention to the suffering of the South Sudanese people.
According to the Media Authority, by early June, over 200 permits had been given to foreign journalists and media houses to operate in South Sudan. In the past few months, journalists reporting for international media agencies such as Reuters, Voice of America, AFP, among others have been rejected permits to cover South Sudan by the authority. On 1 May, the South Sudan Media Authority whose membership is constituted by the president suspended the activities of Al-Jazeera in Juba.
South Sudanese journalists face hostile working conditions as epitomed by the multiple cases of threats, physical attacks, and even murders of reporters. Most of these attacks are perpetrated by members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) renamed on 16th May to South Sudan Defence Forces and National Security Service (NSS) soldiers who continue to walk free despite multiple documentations of the same.
“The South Sudanese government is obsessed with limiting free speech for journalists, bloggers, and civilians to the detriment of its own efforts to move closer towards the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement.” said Mr. Maina. “This move reinforces the view that the South Sudanese government is disinterested in resolving the civil unrest in the country. This is a spanner in the works thrown just at the moment when regional leaders are about to convene for an Intergovernmental Authority on Development Summit on South Sudan, aimed at exploring ways of ending the political stalemate in the country”.
ARTICLE 19 calls upon the South Sudan Media Authority to retract this ban without delay while also disclosing public the list of banned journalist alongside the criteria used for the ban.
We also urge the South Sudanese government to make concerted efforts to consolidate all efforts toward the protection of freedom of expression in the country including ensuring the speedy trial of 12 soldiers accused of murdering a group of foreign nationals and a journalist in July 2016 in Juba.
Additionally, we call on the South Sudanese government to expedite the ratification of key human rights instruments like the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Unilateral Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR).