SOUTH SUDAN.— The new government in Juba has promised it will respect freedom of the press. “Journalists will be free to go anywhere, take photos of anything, interview anyone,” the information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, said last week. Despite the promises about press freedom, the government has not passed a media law protecting those rights.
South Sudanese journalists, such as Nhial Bol, say the government continually fails to fulfill that promise. Bol has been arrested three times and several journalists working for him have claimed to have been detained and beaten upon several occasions.
Nhial Bol is the editor of The Citizen, the largest newspaper in South Sudan, which opened its offices in Juba in 2006. Its moto, “Fighting corruption and dictatorship.” “These are the two biggest problems in South Sudan,” Bol said, “The high level of corruption will lead to insecurity one day in South Sudan.”
Even newspaper vendors have been beaten when critical stories are published on the government. One vendor, who would give his name only as John, confirmed that security forces have attacked several vendors, explaining that they are often forced to move away from government offices or security checkpoints.
The failure of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s (SPLM) transition from a rebel army to civilian government is reflected in the government’s failure to respect free press.
Often times, journalists must rely entirely of personal connections to gain access to information and interview, institutionalized regulations are non-existent. While investigating a story journalists can face harassment and arrest at the hands of the country’s extensive security forces.
Dhieu William, a reporter who has worked at The Citizen for two years, said he has almost “given up” trying to take photographs because of harassment from police and soldiers.
William continues to work as a journalist despite the challenges, stating “People’s lives here are at such a low-level… The services have not reached down to the villages. Some people die in their houses because they cannot reach medical care. There are no roads, no ambulances, medical facilities are not near them … I want to hear about these abuses and tell these stories.”