Nairobi, January 27, 2015–Five journalists were killed on Sunday when unidentified gunmen ambushed an official convoy in South Sudan’s Western Bahr al Ghazal state, according to local journalists and news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the attack and calls on authorities to apprehend the perpetrators and hold them to account.
The gunmen ambushed a two-car convoy and shot 11 dead, including the journalists, according to news reports and outgoing Information Minister Derrick Alfred, who spoke to CPJ. Some individuals survived the attack. The convoy, which included James Marodama Benjamin, commissioner of Raja county, was returning to Raja after visiting families of individuals killed in another attack by unidentified gunmen on January 22 in Sofo town, local journalists told CPJ.
The journalists were Musa Mohamed, director of the state-run radio station Raja FM; Adam Juma, presenter and reporter for Raja FM; Raja FM reporters Dalia Marko and Randa George; and Boutros Martin, cameraman for the Western Bahr el Ghazal branch of South Sudan Television, or SSTV, according to Alfred, Deng Alor, representative of the Western Bahr el Ghazal journalists’ union, and the local privately owned daily The Citizen.
The motive behind the attack and its perpetrators are unknown. Phillip Aguer, spokesman for the South Sudanese army, claimed Ugandan rebels were behind the attack, while state governor Rizik Zachariah claimed the perpetrators were part of the rebel group led by former Vice President Riek Machar, according to news reports.
“The murder of five journalists is a devastating attack on South Sudan’s already beleaguered press corps,” CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes said. “We urge Western Bahr el Ghazal authorities to do their utmost to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice, and to ensure journalists are allowed to carry out their duties safely.”
Press freedom in South Sudan has deteriorated since the country gained its independence in 2011, according to sources who spoke to CPJ in late 2014. Government security forces raided and briefly shut down numerous media outlets in Juba in 2014, and local journalists told CPJ they feared covering sensitive topics and censored themselves. The most censored topic, they said, was coverage of rebels.