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HRW urges release of South Sudan peace activist

Peter Biar Ajak poses with Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban, on 7 April 2018 (ST Photo)
August 9, 2018 - (JUBA) - Human Rights Watch (HRW) Friday urged the South Sudanese authorities to release or to take to the court Peter Biar Ajak, a peace activist that has been detained without charges since the 28th July.

Further, the rights group stressed that Ajak’s detention is part of a deeply troubling pattern of increasing repression in the country and called for reforms to guarantee the rights of detainees and to curb the sweeping powers of security agents.

“South Sudan’s security agents have long harassed and arbitrarily detained people, apparently to silence independent voices,” said Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“South Sudan desperately needs public dialogue and greater respect for human rights, not more repression and violations,” Henry further stressed.

Ajak is known for his anti-war activism and acerb criticism for President Salva Kiir and the SPLM-IO leader Riek Machar. Also, he lambasted the IGAD-brokered revitalization peace process.

The statement said Ajak’s arrest underlines the need for major reforms to the security service, as the country in line with the peace implementation process which should begin in the upcoming weeks.

The South Sudanese National Security Service (NSS) have arbitrary arrested many activists and political opponents who criticized the government policies that led to the nearly five-year conflict in the young nation.

"Human Rights Watch has documented widespread harassment and unlawful detention of journalists, activists, and members of political opposition groups over the past four and a half years, creating an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship," reads the statement.

The rights body further denounced the harsh conditions of detention and abuse, including beatings and torture, and reported the ordeal of a journalist released on the condition of quitting journalism last January.

During the nine-month of harsh detention period, he told HRW that security agents routinely mistreated him, including beating and kicking him and putting gasoline in his eyes.

“There was no air in my cell, it was difficult to breathe, they refused me to take a bath and put me in a room officers used to urinate in,” he told HRW.

The government and opposition groups signed on 5 August an important deal revitalizing the governance and power-sharing chapter of 2015 peace agreement. The mediation is now preparing for discussions on the implementation matrix paving the way for the full implementation of the revitalized peace agreement.

The peace deal includes a 36-month period to reform law and adopt a new constitution.

Henry called on the South Sudanese authorities to release people held arbitrarily and change the way the national security agency operates.

“National Security officials should be subject to the same oversight as all security forces and held accountable for their abuses," she further added.

(ST)