Media continue to face attacks and restrictions

After years of broken ceasefires and failed negotiations between government and opposition forces, the United States imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan in early February 2018. The U.S. has since pushed the United Nations Security Council to follow suit, while the European Union has announced plans to do the same if the current peace deal continues to be ignored.

In mid-March, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) peacekeeping operation for another year until 15th March 2019. In response, the government of South Sudan decried the extension due to the lack of consultation with the South Sudanese authorities. In mid-February, the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan identified 40 South Sudanese military officers allegedly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity since the start of the civil war in 2013.

On 23rd March, the UN extended the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for a period of one year, and it requested the Commission to present an oral update at the Council’s 39th session, and to present a comprehensive written report at the Council’s 40th session.

CIVICUS and 12 other organisations welcomed this, stating that "the renewal of the mandate allowing it to continue its vital investigations and identification of perpetrators. These developments acknowledge the importance of accountability for serious human rights violations and crimes under international law, which cannot be understated".

Expression

Attacks on journalists at protest

On 6th February 2018, shortly after the U.S. announced its arms embargo, a foreign journalist was assaulted by an angry mob at a demonstration against the sanctions in Juba. The journalist was left unconscious and taken by UN peacekeepers and local police to the UNMISS compound for medical attention. Gale Julius, a South Sudanese journalist for Bakhita Radio, was also assaulted.

Authorities attempt to shut down UN-operated radio station

The South Sudanese Media Regulatory Authority ordered the independent UN-operated Radio Miraya off the air on 9th March for allegedly refusing to comply with the country's broadcast laws. The station broadcasts information about UN activities and political programmes meant to foster peace and dialogue in the country.

A UN official told Radio Tamazuj that the government decision to suspend the UN-owned radio service violates the agreement between the government and UN, since Radio Miraya is operating under the UN Mission in South Sudan, not under the Media Regulatory Authority. The station continues to operate.

Reacting to this incident, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney stated that:

"South Sudanese authorities must ensure Radio Miraya is permitted to operate unhindered...journalists in South Sudan are too often faced with bureaucratic red tape or other tactics of government intimidation, which are incompatible with efforts to create conditions for sustaining peace".
UN report on freedom of expression in South Sudan

A new report by UNMISS and the UN Human Rights Office issued on 22nd February 2018 found that restrictions on freedom of expression in South Sudan are having a "chilling effect" and "further shrinking the space for debate and dissent". The report found 60 verified incidents of violations of the right to freedom of expression affecting 102 victims, including 17 women, in the period from July 2016 to December 2017.

Incidents include the killing of two people and the arbitrary arrest and detention of 58 others. In addition, 16 people were dismissed from their jobs and the authorities closed or suspended three media houses, censored newspaper articles and blocked websites. Those targeted included individuals critical of the government, as well as those allegedly harming the country’s reputation, or attempting to address issues deemed sensitive.

Journalists are often not free to cover stories in South Sudan, particularly in relation to the conflict that has raged across the country for almost five years. They regularly face censorship, harassment and threats to their life.

Association

On 12th February, the High Court in Juba sentenced James Gatdet Dak, the former spokesperson of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – In Opposition, to death. Gatdet Dak was unlawfully transferred from Kenya to South Sudan in November 2016. He spent over seven months in solitary confinement before finally being charged with treason, publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to South Sudan, and undermining the authority of or insulting the President.