July 1, 2013 (JUBA) - A leading human rights group in South Sudan has condemned in the "strongest terms" last week’s decision to close Rumbek-based Good News Radio, which is part of the Catholic Radio Network.
Lakes state’s minister of information and communications, Dut Makoi Kuok, summoned the station’s manager, Peter Mapuor Makur Malith, to present the broadcaster’s license on Friday but despite providing documents the station was taken off air.
According to the South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA), minister Kuok alleged that the station had been reporting on human rights abuses in the state and claimed that the programs and activities at the station have been politicised.
Using such reasons to take the radio station off the air was an attack on the "heart of South Sudan’s Constitution", SSHURSA said in a statement, which accused Kuok of misusing his powers, not following the law and acting outside his mandate.
"This must be condemned by anyone who cares about South Sudan’s current and
future democratic and rule of law based governance", the group’s statement said.
The 2011 Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011 allows for the right to freedom of expression and media. Article 24(1) states:
"Every citizen shall have the right to the freedom of expression, reception and dissemination of information, publication, and access to the press without prejudice to public order, safety or morals as prescribed by law".
SSHURSA argue that minister Kuok has failed to demonstrate that any breach of the law has been committed by the popular radio station, which broadcasts mainly in English and Dinka and the eight counties of Lakes and parts of some neighbouring states.
Closing down the station because of its coverage of human rights abuses "is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution" the advocacy group said.
Article 24(2) of South Sudan’s constitution states:"All levels of government shall guarantee the freedom of the press and other media as shall be regulated by the law in a democratic Society."
The actions of minister Kuok, the group said, were akin to those "typical of a military dictatorship", which was "unacceptable" considering the number of lives lost in South Sudan’s struggle for self determination and eventual independence from north Sudan in 2011.
Closing the radio station was "illegal and a reminder to South Sudanese of Khartoum’s
oppression and military dictatorships on South Sudanese over the last
decades", the release says.
The Lakes state government’s constant intimidation and harassment of media personnel and human rights defenders, is incompatible with the values fought for during the civil war with Khartoum and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the group said.
Since the elected governor Chol Tong Mayay was replaced by military caretaker governor Matur Chut Dhuol in January, Dhuol has introduced a string of controversial security measures, such as holding suspects of cattle raiding and other violence in military prisons without trial.
In June Human Rights Watch reported that "South Sudanese soldiers have unlawfully detained and ill-treated more than 130 civilians since February 2013 in response to armed violence and inter-communal fighting in Lakes state".
Many of those who escape or are released complain of torture and ill-treatment in the secretive military prisons.
The station manager of Radio Good News, Peter Mapuor Makur is under pressure to leave his job, according to SSHURSA, which asked the central government to direct the Lakes state government to reinstate the Radio Good News with immediate affect and urge the governor Duol "to act within the confines, spirit and letter of the Constitution."
The statement from SSHURSA’s executive director, Biel Boutros Biel, urged the justice ministry and South Sudan Constitutional Court "to protect against the open abuse of the Constitution by the Lakes States Government".
Biel also suggested that the South Sudan’s parliament "summon and question the Lakes State Caretaker Governor Major General Matur Chut Dhuol, on the human rights abuses that have been taking place in Lakes State since his leadership started."