ARTICLE 19 condemns the incommunicado detention of Adil Faris Mayat, the head of South Sudan’s state-owned national TV broadcaster, SSBC, since 10 July. He has not been allowed to contact his lawyer or family, and has yet to be charged with a crime.
Mayat was arrested by National Security Services (NSS) officers in Juba after SSBC failed to air a live speech by President Salva Kiir marking the sixth anniversary of the country’s independence.
“Arbitrary detentions of journalists by state officials in South Sudan have seen a worrying rise, and this latest incident shows the price journalists pay for failing to toe the government line. This latest detention is part of a trend of arrests and intimidation of journalists in South Sudan. Incidents like this serve to create a chilling effect, worsening the already alarming state of free expression and media freedom in the country,” said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Regional Director.
South Sudan has been regressing further on human rights and media freedoms as the country’s civil war, which has displaced more than 2 million people, continues into its fourth year. Among other human rights violations, there has been an onslaught on media freedoms by the state. Journalists are regularly arbitrarily detained or harassed, and face mistreatment or torture, and numerous critical media outlets have been closed. The ongoing efforts by President Salva Kiir’s government to suppress media freedom are further demonstrated by the recent banning of several international media outlets, and the ban on at least 20 foreign journalists from working in the country.
While restrictions on freedom of expression are permitted during conflict, according to international standards, rights may only be restricted to the degree strictly necessary to protect national security. The arbitrary incommunicado detention of Mayat and similar attacks against and arbitrary detentions of journalists and activists clearly fail to meet that test.
“South Sudanese journalists already face hostile working conditions in the country’s ongoing conflict, and as efforts towards a new peace agreement in the young country continue, the government must show its willingness to reform by safeguarding core human rights, including freedom of expression, ” added Maina.
ARTICLE 19 calls upon the South Sudanese government and NSS to release Mayat without delay, and to release all other journalists and human rights defenders that are currently being held by the government. We urge the South Sudanese government to make a concerted efforts toward ensuring the protection of freedom of expression in the country, by committing to a process of reform which would include the ratification of key international and regional human rights treaties. We also urge the government to address impunity for attacks on freedom of expression and other human rights, by, among other things, ensuring the prompt trial of 12 soldiers accused of the murder of a South Sudanese journalist and the gang rape of several foreign aid workers in an incident in July 2016 in Juba.