South Sudan urged to release journalists held over article

The South Sudanese authorities must immediately release two journalists at risk of torture or ill-treatment after being detained over an article criticizing the country’s president, Amnesty International said today.Both men have been detained without charge and are believed to be held at the National Security Services’ (NSS) headquarters in Juba, with no access to a lawyer or their families. “Detaining someone simply for criticizing the president is an outrageous attack on freedom of expression,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Director for Africa.“The South Sudanese authorities must reveal the exact whereabouts of Dengdit Ayok and Ngor Garang and the two men must be released immediately,” he said.Dengdit Ayok, a journalist at The Destiny newspaper was arrested by the NSS on Saturday in his Juba office. Ngor Garang, Editor in Chief at The Destiny newspaper, and journalist for the online newspaper, The Sudan Tribune, was arrested on 1 November, following a meeting with the NSS concerning an article Dengdit Ayok wrote in The Destiny. The article criticized the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, for allowing his daughter to marry an Ethiopian man.The NSS suspended the publication of The Destiny indefinitely on 1 November. The suspension happened despite a public apology to Salva Kiir published in The Destiny on 31 October. The Board of Directors of the newspaper had also imposed a five day suspension of the newspaper and suspended Dengdit Ayok for a month.Detaining someone for more than 24 hours without permission of the court, as both men have been, is illegal in South Sudan. According to the country’s constitution, a suspect must be released on bail after 24 hours, unless a court decides they should be remanded in prison. Last month James Okuk, a journalist and member of South Sudan’s main opposition party, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement- Democratic Change (SPLM-DC) was detained for almost two weeks after publishing an article criticizing the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir. “South Sudan’s new transitional constitution guarantees freedom of expression. It is deeply alarming that the authorities appear reluctant to respect this right,” said Erwin van der Borght.