Freelance journalist in hiding over reports on South Sudan

Nairobi, August 6, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities in South Sudan to ensure the safety of a freelance journalist who has been in hiding since late July. Abraham Agoth told CPJ that he fled his home in the northern state of Bahr el Ghazal on July 28, fearing arrest.

Agoth told CPJ he believes the state’s caretaker governor, Kuel Aguer Kuel, was unhappy with his coverage of state security issues for several media outlets, including the U.S.-backed broadcaster Voice of America, the local news website Gurtong, and the independent weekly The Patriot. Agoth said that earlier in July, Aguer had called him into his office and questioned him in connection with his reports on protests by shopowners in Aweil, the state capital. Agoth said the governor also warned him not to cover attacks by rebels in the state, echoing a warning issued by South Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuei to reporters in the capital, Juba, earlier this year.

On July 26, Aguer ordered the closure of the faith-based radio station Wëër Bei (Redemption) after the station aired an interview the previous day with a member of state parliament who claimed rebels had attacked villages in Northern Bahr-el Ghazal, according to news reports and local journalists. Three local journalists told CPJ the governor ordered all members of the station to be arrested after the broadcast, but later retracted the order. Agoth volunteers at Wëër Bei but was not on duty the day the station aired the interview.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Aguer told CPJ that he has no intention of arresting Agoth. He said he wanted to question him about his reports.

Aguer also told CPJ the radio station had temporarily been shut down for false reporting and instigating panic. He noted that the station was allowed to re-open on July 31.

“This is another example of authorities targeting the press simply for performing its role: reporting on the ongoing conflict in South Sudan,” said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. “We urge state authorities to ensure the safety and security of Abraham Agoth and allow him to return to work without fear of reprisal.”

On December 15, violent fighting broke out in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, between forces loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar and those loyal to President Salva Kiir. The conflict soon took on ethnic dimensions, pitting the two most populous tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer, against one another. More recently, peace negotiations have stalled, allowing the conflict, mostly in the eastern part of the country, to continue, and aid agencies have expressed fear that South Sudan is on the verge of a manmade famine, according to news reports.