Nairobi, February 10, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ban on independent newspaper Nation Mirror, which was ordered to stop publishing by National Security Service agents in South Sudan’s capital Juba, and calls on authorities to immediately reverse the order.
The National Security Service seized the print run of the privately owned English daily Nation Mirror from the printers at around 5 a.m. February 3 and, in a meeting at security headquarters later that day, agents told Wol Deng Atak, the editor-in-chief, the paper was barred from publishing indefinitely because it printed “anti-government articles,” Atak told CPJ. No official order or law was cited in the meeting, according to Atak. The website of the Nation Mirror has not been affected by the ban.
The action last week came after a headline in the paper on January 28 erroneously reported the withdrawal of troops from Renk, in northeastern South Sudan, when they had only withdrawn from an area north of Renk, according to local reports. The paper issued an apology in the following edition.
“Suspending a newspaper that reported incorrectly is a hugely disproportionate response and is not based in South Sudanese law or regulation,” said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. “We call on authorities to allow the Nation Mirror to resume publishing immediately and to allow independent media to freely report the news without fear of censorship or retaliation.”
Calls to presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny and Information Minister Michael Makuei about the suspension were left unanswered.
The National Security Service threatened to close another South Sudan newspaper last month, local journalists told CPJ. On January 12, agents called Anna Nimiriano, editorial director of privately owned daily Juba Monitor, to their offices and threatened to close the paper, Michael Koma, a columnist and editorial board member for the paper, told CPJ. The officials threatened to close the paper if Juba Monitor continued to publish columns by Koma, he added. Security agents told Nimiriano they disapproved of two January opinion columns by Koma: “Warrap tycoon versus Kuajok misery” and “Is not a Dinka-Nuer war?” that criticized officials for the lack of development in Warrap state and claimed the current fighting is an ethnic-driven conflict, Koma said. Chief Editor Alfred Taban issued an apology to the government and stopped the column, news reports said.
The security services conduct these operations without recourse to South Sudanese law and in defiance of the transitional constitution that contains clauses protecting freedom of expression, local journalists told CPJ.
Civil war has ravaged South Sudan, with 1.9 million displaced and more than 50,000 killed after fighting broke out between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those supporting former vice-president Riek Machar, according to estimates from conflict prevention organization International Crisis Group and the U.N. Officials have targeted the press throughout the conflict, which has led to self-censorship as journalists try to avoid harassment and closures, according to CPJ research.
In a separate incident, protesters attacked Nation Mirror reporter Athiang John at Juba Teaching Hospital on January 20 while he investigated killings in Kworijin, a village north of the capital, John told CPJ. Police rescued him from the crowd but John said he injured his head and damaged his voice recorder and phone in the struggle. The reporter was targeted alongside other members of the press, who managed to escape without injury, after the media made inquiries at the hospital into the number of casualties from the attacks by two ethnic groups in Kworijin, John and other journalists told CPJ.
Unidentified gunmen killed 11 people, including five journalists, in a roadside ambush last month in Western Bahr al Ghazal state, according to local journalists and news reports. These were the first killings of journalists in direct relation to their work, documented by CPJ since South Sudan achieved independence.