South Sudanese journalist Zechariah Makuach Maror was arrested in April 2020 and in September was sentenced to one year in prison for defamation in relation to his criticism of the country’s Ministry of Finance.
Maror is a freelance journalist who has written for newspapers in South Sudan, including Agamlong, The Dawn, and Juba Monitor, according to a report by the Eye Radio news website and Saad Z. Maror, the journalist’s brother, who spoke with CPJ via phone. Maror also publishes criticism of South Sudan’s government on his Facebook page, where he has about 700 followers.
Maror was arrested on April 18, 2020, following an April 2 complaint by Salvatore Garang Mabiordit Wol, then South Sudan’s minister of finance, according to Saad Maror, Agamlong board chair Kuel Maluil Jok, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, and court documents reviewed by CPJ.
The complaint alleged that Maror’s repeated criticism of Wol in his reporting and on social media constituted defamation, according to Saad Z. Maror, Jok, and court documents reviewed by CPJ. The complaint referenced an article published by The Dawn in January 2020, and republished in other local outlets, that listed corruption allegations against Wol, according to the same documents.
At the May 18 hearing, Maror’s lawyer recommended that the case be dismissed, saying that alleged defamation by journalists should be handled by the country’s media law, not its penal code, according to the journalist’s brother and news reports. Under Section 28 of South Sudan’s 2013 media act, public officials “do not have standing” to file defamation suits.
On September 14, a Juba county court convicted Maror and sentenced him to one year in prison and a fine of 5,000 South Sudanese pounds ($38), according to his brother, a report by Eye Radio, and a copy of the court decision reviewed by CPJ.
Maror was convicted under Section 289 of South Sudan’s penal code, relating to criminal defamation, after the court found that his publications about Wol had a “lack of evidence,” according to the court decision. South Sudan’s president fired Wol on September 16, citing ongoing economic challenges and corruption, according to news reports.
Maror is being held in the central prison in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, according to Eye Radio and two people who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity.
“I think there was no neutrality,” Jok told CPJ in October 2020, alleging that the judge who convicted Maror was too close to Wol.
In October 2020, Saad Z. Maror told CPJ that his brother’s preexisting cough and back pain had worsened in detention, and he received treatment at a prison clinic.
Saad Z. Maror said that after his brother was imprisoned, he was briefly granted permission to continue his studies at the University of Juba, but on October 30, the school expelled Maror and 28 other students for allegedly participating in protests. In a letter to the university, which CPJ reviewed, Maror denied any connection to the protests. Saad Z. Maror told CPJ that he believed the expulsion was promoted by his brother’s articles critical of the government.
CPJ’s calls to Wol did not connect. CPJ called Elijah Alier, the chairperson of South Sudan’s media authority, and Sapana Abuyi, the authority’s director-general for information and media compliance, but the calls did not go through. CPJ also called Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth for comment, but the call did not connect.