South Sudanese President Salva Kiir threatens to kill journalists

Nairobi, August 17, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns statements made by South Sudan President Salva Kiir on Sunday in which he threatened to kill journalists for reporting “against the country.” Kiir made the statement at the airport in the capital, Juba, before flying to Addis Ababa to attend peace talks with former Vice President Riek Machar.

Kiir and Machar are under pressure to sign a peace deal brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an eight-country trade bloc in Africa, or face international sanctions, according to news reports. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced since the civil war started in December 2013, pitting forces loyal to Kiir against those supporting Machar, news reports said.

Following complaints about his government’s record of press freedom, Kiir told journalists at the airport, “If anybody among [journalists] does not know that this country has killed people, we will demonstrate it one day, one time. … Freedom of the press does not mean you work against the country.”

Local journalists said they believe Kiir’s comments were in connection with the media’s criticism of the protracted nature of the peace negotiations and for alleging corruption in the government. Authorities have cracked down on journalists as pressure mounted to commit to a peace deal. Earlier this month, security agents shuttered two privately owned newspapers, the Arabic daily Al-Rai and the English daily Citizen, as well as the independent media outlet Free Voice South Sudan, according to news reports.

“The leader of any country threatening to kill journalists is extremely dangerous and utterly unacceptable,” said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. “We call on President Salva Kiir to retract his comments immediately.”

At least five journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work in South Sudan this year, according to CPJ research. The journalists were killed by unidentified gunmen on January 25, 2015, during an ambush of an official convoy traveling through Western Bahr al Ghazal state, according to reports.