Christopher Allen, a British-American freelance journalist, was shot dead in Kaya, South Sudan, near the country’s borders with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, spokesmen with the country’s army and opposition forces told CPJ.
Allen, 26, had been embedded with the military forces of the opposition, the SPLM-IO, for two weeks at the time of his death, Lam Paul Gabriel, a military spokesperson for the opposition, told CPJ.
He was one of 19 people killed when fighting broke out between government and SPLM-IO forces on the morning of August 26, according to media reports. South Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war since 2013, which has displaced at least 3.9 million people, according to U.N. figures. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, according to media reports.
In 2017, Gabriel, who had spoken with people who were present when Allen died, told CPJ that the journalist was deliberately targeted by government forces. South Sudanese army spokesperson Lul Ruai Koang denied that in an interview with CPJ.
Koang said that the army had no way of identifying Allen as a journalist until after he had been killed.
In 2017, Reuters quoted a rebel fighter who said that Allen was wearing a jacket marked “Press” at the time of his death. However, 2018 reporting by the Columbia Journalism Review disputed those early claims, saying that he “wasn’t wearing a flak jacket or any other apparel that identified him as press.”
Allen was shot five times, in his neck, legs, and head, according to a 2019 report by the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian, which reviewed his autopsy report. The newspaper spoke to two experts, one of whom said the nature of the shots suggested that they were “not ricochet, not an accidental wide spray of shots” while the second said that the autopsy report was not conclusive.
Shortly after he was killed, photographs of Allen’s body, with his injuries and genitals exposed, were shared on social media, according to media reports and an August 2019 statement issued by a group of lawyers from Doughty Street Chambers, a firm acting on behalf of Allen’s family.
Information minister Michael Makuei Lueth told the U.S.-Congress funded broadcaster Voice of America on August 28, 2017, that Allen was a “white rebel” who had come into South Sudan illegally.
Army officers who spoke to Mail & Guardian in 2019 said that they had seen Allen taking pictures, but claimed that they thought he was a “white rebel that was filming.” The Columbia Journalism Review reporting argued that “it’s difficult to imagine” that soldiers “couldn’t have properly identified Allen, who carried two cameras and was snapping pictures until what may have been his last moment.”
The publication also spoke to a Ugandan intelligence source who claimed that the army had “genuinely believed they had killed a mercenary fighting alongside the rebels.”
In the August 28, 2017, Voice of America interview, Lueth said that Allen had previously been denied entry into South Sudan on account of his “hostile reports.”
When he spoke with CPJ in 2017, Lueth did not specify what reports he was referring to in the VOA interview and referred CPJ to the government-run South Sudan Media Authority, which handles journalist visa requests. Elijah Alier, managing director of the Media Authority, told CPJ that the authority had no records on Allen.
On August 30, 2017, Lueth said that Allen’s death on the “course of his duty” had been “regrettable,” according to Voice of America.
An August 2019 statement issued by Allen’s family’s lawyers said that evidence pointed to Allen being “deliberately targeted because he was a journalist taking photographs, and that this was not an accidental crossfire death” and that experts who had read his autopsy report thought that he was the victim of a “direct attack” and that he was not “collateral damage.”
The South Sudanese government had failed to carry out an investigation into the killing by August 2019, according to the statement from the Allen family’s lawyers. Shortly after he was killed, Bloomberg reported that authorities had ruled out an investigation into Allen’s death. The army’s deputy spokesperson, Domic Chol Santo, told CPJ on August 28, 2o17, that investigations were “none of our business.”
In their August 2019 statement, the lawyers acting on behalf of Allen’s relatives said that the family had written to the United States’ FBI calling for an investigation, and asking for them to classify Allen’s killing and the treatment of his body as war crimes.
In an email to CPJ, the national press office of the FBI said it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation into Allen’s death.
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Leiden University in the Netherlands, Allen’s work was published by outlets including the BBC, Vice, The Telegraph, and Al-Jazeera.
His mother, Joyce Krajian, told Voice of America that Allen “chose to bear witness” through his journalism. He “chose to look unflinchingly at what was painful and see the humanity within it,” she said. Prior to covering South Sudan, Allen had covered the conflict in Ukraine.