Nairobi — South Sudanese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all journalists detained this week and ensure the press can work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On Tuesday, January 3, agents with the National Security Service detained six journalists with the state-run South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation, according to multiple media reports and three people familiar with the arrests who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity, citing fear of retaliation.
The journalists are under investigation for allegedly leaking a video clip widely circulated on social media in December, which appeared to show the country’s president urinating on himself, those reports said. SSBC did not air that footage, an official from the broadcaster told the independent outlet Radio Tamazuj.
“Authorities’ arrests of six employees of the South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation matches a pattern of security personnel resorting to arbitrary detention whenever officials deem coverage unfavorable,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities should unconditionally release these six SSBC employees and ensure that they can work without further intimidation or threat of arrest.”
Those detained are control room director Joval Tombe, camera operator and technician Victor Lado, camera operators Joseph Oliver and Jacob Benjamin, camera operator and technician Mustafa Osman, and control room technician Cherbek Ruben, according to the media reports and the people who spoke to CPJ.
As of Friday evening, the six remained in detention at the National Security Service headquarters, known as Blue House, according to those sources and a statement by the Union of Journalists of South Sudan.
CPJ called and texted South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei for comment on Friday evening, but did not immediately receive any replies. He told the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Voice of America that people should wait to learn why the journalists were detained.
When CPJ called Elijah Alier, managing director of South Sudan’s Media Authority, a statutory regulator, he declined to comment, saying he was out of office.