Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 30 June 2009

Intimidation of journalists is wrong


By Zechariah Manyok Biar

There are times that the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) appears to contradict its principles. GoSS is known for confronting the National Congress Party (NCP) about the lack of freedom of press in the Government of National Unity (GoNU), something we South Sudanese support one hundred percent. But we occasionally hear that journalists are detained in Juba for some days for allegedly reporting what the government deems unacceptable. What should we believe? Is it the complete freedom of press that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and GoSS always talk about or is it the partial freedom of press that the NCP believes in?

On June 29, 2009, Sudan Tribune reported that Isaac Vuni of Sudan Tribune was detained by police in Juba, South Sudan for five days “for exposing the collapse of Nile Commercial Bank and the knocking of the presidential motorcade by a hit-and-run vehicle that belonged to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s headquarters in Juba.” Sudan Tribune reported that the administrator of the August House of Government of Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly had ordered Isaac Vuni to get out during a parliamentary deliberation, allegedly citing a report in Citizen Magazine in which Mr. Vuni is accused of stating that legislators were avoiding debate due to lack of pay.

What is disturbing about this report is that Mr. Vuni said that he was periodically denied water, food, and access to the toilets while in custody. Mr. Vuni also said that UN officials allegedly were denied access to detainees.

I don’t know if GoSS is aware of how damaging these seemingly small issues are for South Sudan in the international community. There is no any other thing that makes international community stands behind South Sudan apart from the clean records of SPLM about human rights and respect for the rule of law as compared to NCP. Contradiction in behavior for GoSS seriously affects GoSS’s claims for the respect of human rights and the rule of law.

On June 26, 2009, I participated in the conference call for Sudan that was organized by Enough Project. Enough Project is the advocacy group that was founded by Americans to advocate for Darfur. Now Enough Project has extended its advocacy to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Enough Project members put pressure on the U.S. government to fully get involved in the process of bringing peace to and keeping peace in Sudan.

During the conference, one Sudanese accused Enough Project of putting pressure on NCP only and not on the SPLM as well. He said that GoSS is control by only one tribe, although he did not name the tribe. But Enough Project members knew more about Sudan’s current politics than that Sudanese. There were no good evidences that the Sudanese gave to indict GoSS. This means that South Sudanese are not the only ones who have access to international community. Our strengths are always our government’s good records on human rights issues and the respect for the rule of law in South Sudan. That is why our advocacy for GoSS makes sense to many people here in the West.

Our government must be aware that we are not in a position to cover up any atrocities committed against innocent civilians or media people because they cannot be hidden.

The respect for the rule of law includes the commitment to transparency. Transparency is valid and reliable if the media is free to report things as they happen. Journalists are not bound by anything apart from their code of conduct, and their code of conduct includes reporting news as they happen.

The only way that citizens and the government of any country deal with reporters is to sue them in court if they report things that are not true. Government officials in a democratic country in which law is above all do not have the right to detain journalists for reporting what the government disagrees with. Police has to detain a journalist only if ordered by the court to do so.

If our government needs to maintain its current image in the international community, then it needs to stick to the rule of law. Otherwise, there would be no difference between GoSS and the NCP-controlled GoNU in which dictatorship reigns.

Zechariah Manyok Biar is a graduate student at Abilene Christian University, Texas, USA. He is pursuing a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry and a Master of Science in Social Work, specializing in Administration and Planning. manyok34@gmail.com

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