Civic space threatened as violence flares in South Sudan

Association

Freedom of association in South Sudan continues to be inhibited both at the state and national level. Government authorities regularly threaten and harass civil society, particularly during periods of conflict or heightened tensions. Fighting reignited in Juba on 7th July and in the five days following the outbreak of violence over 300 people were reportedly killed. Many civil society activists have fled their homes and gone into hiding since the fighting broke out, and fear that the chaotic situation will facilitate the targeting of activists.

In February, the NGO Bill and the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission Bill were both signed into law. According to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan and EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Management, the new law could have a widespread impact on the ability of NGOs to effectively operate and provide assistance. Both of the new laws contain troubling provisions that are contrary to international norms. In June, the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission announced that all NGOs must renew their certificates by the end of the month in accordance with the new NGO laws.

Peaceful Assembly

South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution offers protections for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, however it continues to be repressed in the continent's newest country. On 13th June, South Sudanese security forces were accused of shooting into a building at the University of Juba during a student election. Prior to the shooting, students reported that security officials had harassed students before the vote. In November 2015, police arrested 13 civil society activists in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr el Ghazal, and held them without charge. Three were reportedly tortured while in police custody and two were held for over one week.

Expression

Journalists face regular intimidation and harassment by security forces and detention, torture, and attacks are becoming increasingly common. In the month following the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity on 29th April, over 10 civil society activists and journalists were arrested. In early May, national security forces in Yei stormed Radio Easter, a branch of the national Catholic Radio Network, demanding the whereabouts of two journalists that broadcasted a story accusing SPLA soldiers of killing eight people. Father Emmanuel Sebit, the station director, was taken to their offices and questioned. On 16th May 2016, police arrested two journalists from al-Watan, an Arabic daily newspaper. Michael Christopher, Editor in Chief, and Lal Chol Makuac, al-Watan reporter, were charged with defamation for publishing a story about abuses by an SPLA general. On 23rd May, Radio Bakhita journalist Gale Julius was arrested after taking photographs while covering a court session implicating a senior government official in a case of embezzlement. Security forces regularly harass both national and international journalists.On 28th May soldiers detained two American journalists and on 30 May, American journalist Justin Lynch was beaten by SPLA soldiers in Yei.