Transitional Government Formed Amidst Ongoing Tensions and Restrictions on Freedom of Speech.

Association

February 2020, a transitional government of national unity was formed by former warring factions, including the government, led by President Salva Kiir, and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), with Riek Machar appointed as First Vice-President. So far, four other Vice-Presidents have been appointed, around 35 Ministers and 10 Deputy Ministers. It was also announced that the country would revert to ten states to maintain peace. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the parties faced significant international pressure to form a unity government after the 2018 peace agreement largely went unimplemented, and renewed efforts towards the country’s peace process faced several delays.

However, on 20th April, several members of the SPLM-IO defected to the ruling party led by Kiir, accusing Machar of running the SPLM-IO like a family dynasty and not sharing power. 

Despite hopes of peace however, fighting continues in several areas of the country, particularly Yei River States, and since the government was formed, intercommunal tensions and fighting over livelihoods and past and ongoing violations have continued to increase, in particular in Tonj and Greater Pibor/Jonglei. Most recently on 20th April 2020, 12 deaths were reported in the town of Malek. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported that at least 5,000 civilians were displaced by heavy fighting in Jonglei state. 

In separate developments, in mid-April 2020, the Director General for the National Prison Service, distributed a circular to all states instructing prison authorities to release some 1,400 inmates to ease overcrowding. Human Rights Watch called for more non-violent, pre-trial detainees and prisoners who have served most of their terms, to be released from overcrowded and unsanitary prisons. There are concerns that the current COVID-19 pandemic could reach the prisons and would spread quickly due to cramped conditions. By 19th April 2020, it had already been announced that some prison authorities had released prisoners. 

Peaceful Assembly

In March 2020, South Sudan issued measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which including a ban on social gatherings, political activities and religious events. Rights groups however cautioned against enforcing measures in a manner which would disproportionately affect those who are already struggling, such as displaced and detained persons. In this regard, Human Rights Watch called on the government to ensure that travel restrictions do not disrupt already strained ongoing humanitarian relief efforts in the country, or their supply chains and also take immediate steps to alleviate the risk to populations in prisons and detention facilities.

Expression

A radio sports journalist in Maridi state, Isaac Van, was arrested and detained on 4th February 2020, but released one week later without charges, after the management of his radio switched off the station in protest against his arbitrary detention. Van, who works for local radio station Maridi FM 88.9, was allegedly arrested for “spreading wrong information against the state”, and beaten. His arrest came just weeks after journalist, Ijoo Bosco Modi, was also arrested and detained for several days and later released without charges in Torit State. South Sudan receives most of its information through radio.

On 12th February 2020,renowned academic and writer at the University of Juba, Taban Lo Liyong, was suspended over an opinion piece he wrote criticising the government’s support for the current number of 32 states as opposed to the 10 states originally inherited from Khartoum in 2011. The university alleged that the article amounted to “incitement of ethnic hatred”. In recent years, South Sudan’s universities have limited political freedoms by requiring students and staff to obtain permission from the NSS for planned activities. Undercover NSS agents are also said to pose as students to keep tabs on critical voices.