Nairobi, January 4, 2013–Authorities in South Sudan have been holding two state broadcast journalists without charge since Tuesday, according to local journalists and media reports. The journalists were picked up in a sweep of arrests following protests and ethnic clashes last month in the northwestern town of Wau in Western Bahr el Ghazal State.
Louis Pasquale, director-general of the state broadcaster in Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Ashab Khamis, director of state television, are being held at the Meir al Bahr prison in Wau, according to the same sources. Along with Pasquale and Khamis, three other journalists working for the state broadcaster–radio director Alor Deng, head of news Kamilo Luchiano, and cameraman Michael Lawrence–were arrested but released Wednesday evening, Deng and state Information Minister Derrick Alfred told CPJ.
Local journalists said they suspect the arrests are related to coverage of violence in Wau. Last month, protests erupted after the government said it would transfer the local county headquarters from Wau, the state capital, to a nearby town; at least 10 people died in the ensuing crackdown on demonstrators, international media reported. Wau was a garrison town for the Sudan army before South Sudan gained independence in 2011 and has experienced ethnic clashes since separation. Citizens opposed to the county transfer accuse the government of marginalizing certain ethnic groups, while the government argues it is trying to deliver services to less developed areas, according to local journalists.
Security agents accuse the state media of providing footage of the clashes to international broadcaster Al-Jazeera, according to the Catholic Radio Network.
“These arrests appear to be part of an effort to suppress information about the unrest in Western Bahr el Ghazal,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We call on authorities to release Louis Pasquale and Ashab Khamis immediately, and allow journalists to cover events in the state without facing intimidation or arrest.”
Alfred said the arrests were intended to restore order to the town. Western Bahr-el Ghazal State Governor Rizik Zakaria said in an interview on U.N.-backed Miraya FM that the journalists were arrested for administrative reasons, but did not give further detail.
According to independent shortwave Radio Tamazuj, authorities briefly detained other journalists from Radio Tamazuj and the Catholic-run Voice of Hope. Radio Tamazuj also reported that some journalists have received death threats by phone or text message since the clashes in Wau.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The text has been modified to correct that the Catholic Radio Network, not Bakhita Radio as previously stated, was the source of information that security agents suspected state media of passing footage to Al-Jazeera. The text has also been modified to correct the date of publication.