The space for freedom of expression and the press continued to reduce in South Sudan since 2015. From late December 2015 to March 2016, there was an upsurge in incidents of threats to journalists’ safety and security. Union of Journalists of South Sudan recorded over twelve cases. In 2015 alone, seven journalists were killed as they were doing media work by unknown gunmen.
After the country seceded from Sudan on July 9, 2011 new organizations like The Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) and Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) have been working to protect the journalists in the fragile situation.
Due to financial constraints, the media institutions in the country are not yet fully functional. Media Authority, which regulates the country’s media and oversees its development, is yet to secure an office and a managing director.
Three media bills, prepared by AMDISS with support from international media development partners, were tabled in the country’s parliament since 2007. The bills Right of Access to Information, Media Authority and Broadcasting Corporation became laws after President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s signature in 2013.
The president issued threats against journalists in August 2015. The threats were followed by the murder of a reporter, Peter Moi, three days later.
Problems with security organizations
The relations between the media and security organizations have not been friendly in South Sudan. Over the years, there have been seizures of newspapers, closures of media houses, arbitrary arrests and detentions of journalists, threats and harassment.
In order to mitigate the strained relations, UJOSS, with support from international organizations, initiated training for journalists on personal safety, security and protection, and on journalists’ code of conduct and professional ethics. UJOSS has been the sole local media organization with a mandate to protect the safety of journalists.
UJOSS also formed media observatory committees with support from UNESCO- IPDC and the government of Sweden, in the then ten states in South Sudan to monitor, document and report abuses and violations of journalists’ rights.
UJOSS and AMDISS have expressed dismay and concern over the events, and urged the authorities to credibly investigate the crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice.
South Sudan currently ranks 140th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom index, published by Reporters without borders.
Text: Flora Henry Jembi Ali
Photo: Jenni Toivonen