Four youth activists who work for Junubin Chronicles, a youth-led Non-governmental Organization that addresses issues affecting society through edutainment, are yet to appear in court after being arrested by the SSPDF in Juba on 3 January.
Delightly Keji, Bil Kur Nyiel, Sonia Akon Gak, and Bafura Santelo were detained after being summoned separately to the Giada Military Barracks which houses the elite Tiger Battalion which is tasked with protecting the president, among other dignitaries.
The four are being investigated for the disappearance of their boss and colleague, Biar Ajak Marol, the executive director of Junubin Chronicles, who went missing on 4 October last year. His vehicle was found abandoned at the Freedom Bridge in Juba. At the time, eyewitnesses who witnessed the abduction but preferred anonymity said Ajak was stopped and whisked away by operatives from the National Security Service’s (NSS) Internal Security Bureau (ISB).
Last, week, the four were transferred to the Central Police Station in Juba where they continue to be held.
Bafura’s father, who only identified himself as Kennedy, told Radio Tamazuj that his son, 24, was detained on 3 January but had earlier been summoned by soldiers of the Tiger Battalion in the Giada barracks on 30 December 2023.
“He was summoned several times but on the third time on 3 January, he was detained. He used to work for a certain organization alongside his lost friend named Franco Biar (Ajak Marol),” he said. “He has not been taken to court but has now been transferred to Juba Central Police Station.”
According to Kennedy, the family of the missing Biar reported a case that resulted in the apprehension of the latter’s workmates.
“We do not know what happened but the missing boy has not been found and there is no news about him up to this moment,” he added.
The distraught father said he visited his son in custody and that he was fine.
“My son is still young and he cannot kill anybody. The uncle of the lost boy is the Inspector General of Police and he should have called people to sit down and discuss this matter,” he stated. “I do not have any contact with Biar’s family. My son was first detained at the Emergency Police Station and he was released. Up to now, there are no clear charges against them. Tomorrow, I will visit the police facilities and hear the latest.”
For his part, a relative of one of the detainees, Sonia Keji, who spoke on condition of anonymity denied that his niece was a friend to the missing Biar but they got to know each other through their work.
“The story is so long and they say that there is someone who got lost. As a family, we didn’t know about the incident and what linked them together is the nature of work,” he stated. “They are not friends in any way. Later on, we heard that she had been detained in Tiger Division. I decided to go to the detention facility and was told that this girl (Keji), along with other six people, was being held for investigation. I was told that after the investigations, they will be released but up to this moment they are still in detention.”
“We do not have any problem and just want to know the truth and ensure that our daughter is released,” he added.
Kur Kur, the father of Bil Kur, confirmed that his son, a wildlife officer, has been in detention for three weeks over Biar’s disappearance.
“I was told that he has been detained because one of his companions, who they were living within the same compound got killed. So, my son is currently in detention for further investigations to determine the circumstances of the disappearance of his colleague,” he explained. “The boy (Biar) has not been found and the result of the investigation has not been made public. Up to this moment, there are no clear charges put against my son. They were arrested earlier in December 2023 by the police, subjected to beatings, and released. After that, they were re-arrested by the Tiger Division and they have been transferred to the police once again.”
“My son is in the wildlife service but when there is no work, he would go and work at an empowerment NGO with his friend who got lost,” Kur added.
He said Biar is the head of the NGO and is deputized by his son.
“I visited him and I even met the officer in charge of the investigation who assured me that this is a routine investigation and they have not been accused of any charges,” Kur stated. “There are no clear charges and it is only the family of his missing friend who keep on insisting that they were working together. This is the only thing that we have been hearing. There are no clear charges against him. The family are even waiting for the result of the investigation so that they can give their opinion on the matter.”
A lawyer, Stephen Wani, who is representing the detained said during an interview with this publication that investigations were still ongoing and the case has not been brought to court.
“I am part of a group of lawyers representing Delightly Keji, Bil Kur Nyiel, Sonia Akon Gak, and Bafura Santelo. So far there are no clear charges but they are accused of knowing about the disappearance of a colleague and friend (Biar) last year,” he said. “The case is still being investigated by the police who will then forward it to the public prosecutor who will then present it in court if there is a case.”
“I cannot comment further because the matter is still under investigation,” Wani added.
He promised to revert in the event of any developments in the case.
Meanwhile, the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), a leading civil society outfit, has urged the country’s political leadership to ensure that the youth activists are released if they have no case to answer.
CEPO Executive Director Edmund Yakani also said that the matter should be exclusively handled by the police without the involvement of the Tiger Division of the SSPDF.
“With due respect and honor, can the leadership of Tiger Division respond positively and transfer the detained youth activists to police if they are in conflict with the law or release them unconditionally,” he urged. “The act of unlawful detention of the youth activists is printing a bad image for our nation. It needs to be corrected immediately by releasing the detained youth activists.”
Yakani added: “Secondly, the public needs information about the detention of the four youth activists and it is good to act on this negative development urgently by either freeing the youth activists or transferring them to the police if they have a case.”
He said that trend of unlawfully arresting and detaining youth activists needs to stop and perpetrators should be held accountable.
South Sudan’s constitution requires detainees to be produced before a court within 24 hours. Despite this, authorities routinely detain suspects for long periods, including during investigations and subsequent trials.