The entrance to Bakhita Radio, a station that has been shut down. (CPJ)
The entrance to Bakhita Radio, a station that has been shut down. (CPJ)

South Sudan closes radio station, arrests editor

Nairobi, August 18, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns South Sudanese authorities’ shutdown of the popular Catholic-run Bakhita Radio station in Juba, the capital, on Saturday and the ongoing detention of the station’s news editor. Security agents raided the outlet in the morning and arrested four staff members, according to the station’s managing director and news reports.

Security forces arrested Ocen David, news editor, Albino Tokwaro, the managing director, and two radio presenters, Tokwaro told CPJ. Three of them were released the same day, but David was transferred on Sunday to the national security headquarters in Juba, he said. He has not been charged, and the station remains off the air.

Ateny Wek, spokesman for the president, told CPJ the station had undermined national security by falsely reporting that rebels claimed government forces had instigated conflict in Unity State, breaching a ceasefire agreement.

Violent fighting broke out in December between forces loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar and those loyal to President Salva Kiir. Each party has repeatedly accused the other of violating a stalled ceasefire agreement signed in January and re-pledged in May, according to news reports.

Local journalists told CPJ that Bakhita Radio had aired views of both warring parties.

“The South Sudanese government has repeatedly taken a heavy hand to the media, even as political instability underlines the public’s need for independent sources of information,” said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. “We urge authorities to release Ocen David immediately and to allow Bakhita Radio to resume broadcasting.”

Security forces have harassed Bakhita Radio in recent years, according to CPJ research. The station was raided in 2009 for allegedly insulting police, news reports said.

Information Minister Michael Makuei issued a warning to the press in Juba not to report on the rebels’ activities earlier this year. Security forces have routinely harassed the press in South Sudan since the conflict erupted in December, according to CPJ research.