Southern Sudan agents seize Juba Post copies

New York, April 1, 2011Security agents of the semi-autonomous government of Southern Sudan confiscated 2,500 copies of the independent biweekly newspaper, The Juba Post, on Wednesday, according to Chief Editor Michael Koma. 

Security officers briefly detained the paper’s distribution officer on Thursday morning at Juba airport. The agents also summoned Koma for questioning, but the editor declined to appear, he told CPJ. The Juba Post is printed in Khartoum due to a lack of printing facilities in southern Sudan, Koma said, and then shipped into southern Sudan via the airport.

Koma said he lodged a complaint with South Sudan Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin and will meet with the minister on Monday. CPJ was unable to reach the minister after repeated calls. The Juba Post has a circulation of 5,000, with 2,500 copies distributed in Juba. Local journalists in northern Sudan told CPJ that copies were available in the capital, Khartoum.

Journalists at The Juba Post believe the newspaper was targeted for an article headlined, “Athor plans to attack Juba.” In the piece, a spokesperson for a southern rebel group claimed that forces loyal to Gen. George Athor would attack Juba before July. Athor was a commander in the southern army before he rebelled last year, according to Reuters. Security agents called Koma asking him to explain how Athor would attack Juba, he said.

Police detained Koma and journalist Deng Atem Kuol for nine hours in February for a story that alleged the Ivory Bank was faltering. The bank filed a criminal defamation that is still pending, according to the newspaper.

“We are alarmed that the authorities in Juba are already resorting to censorship,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant, Tom Rhodes. “This does not bode well for press freedom in what will become Africa’s newest state. We urge the authorities to respect international norms of freedom of expression and allow the press to do its work without interference.”

South Sudan is set to become sub-Saharan Africa’s newest country in July after citizens voted for separation from northern Sudan in a January referendum vote. Many officers formerly under the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), however, have defected and have joined rebel forces under the leadership of Athor, the SPLA’s former chief of staff, according to local reports. Local journalists in Juba suspect the northern Khartoum government supports the rebel offensive in a bid to disrupt the country’s separation in July.  

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement / Army fought a 22 year civil war with the Khartoum government; a peace agreement was eventually signed in January 2005 that allowed southern Sudan the opportunity to separate by July 2011. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The date of the referendum mentioned in the seventh paragraph has been changed to January.