By Joseph Oduha
Historically, Sudan was once the largest African state with an area of about 2.5 million square kilometers before separation in 2011. Sudan being rule by the Arabs since 1956 independence until it’s cracked into two independent states in 2011, has a toxic record of impunity against press freedom and freedom of expression.
The late veteran journalist Mr. Alfred Taban and other journalists were arrested multiple times by Khartoum regime in line of duty. Even political opponents, scholars or academia such as the late Dr Hassan al-Turabi and many others have too been imprisoned several times for expressing personal critical views on state matters.
In short, there was no democracy in Sudan since independence and most of the past governments were changed through military takeover or popular uprisings. So, all those governments restricted freedom of the press and of speech. So, we blamed the Arabs who were in authority that time.
After the separation of the Southerners in 2011, the hope for drastic political reforms in South Sudan was very high. The demands include; provision of basic services such as quality education, health, roads and infrastructure, clean drinking water, as well respect to freedom of expression and of the press among others. If these needs were fulfilled, South Sudan would have not found itself in the mess its facing now.
Honestly, the separation of South Sudan from the north was the most celebrated one not only by Southerners but even by some western countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and many others.
But one may asked questions like: has this independence liberated the people of South Sudan from poverty, marginalization, and oppression? Has it delivered the badly needed development? Is there democracy and good governance now in South Sudan? The answer to these questions will obviously be no. It’s no because the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has lost her mission and vision. Hence, there is lack of visionary leadership now, the same problem we faced in old Sudan.
Many South Sudanese know the reasons why they voted for a separate independent state unfortunately the guerrilla movement (SPLM) that assumed power in the South failed to live up to their promises on democracy, rule of law, accountability, transparency, respect to freedom of expression and of the press, service delivery just to mention but few.
Back to press freedom, globally, freedom of the press and of speech are the major pillars of democracy.
The same freedoms are also protected by the South Sudan transitional constitution but the government is not respecting them.
There is unending trouble now facing South Sudan media and journalists. The youngest nation has lost more than 11 journalists in line of duty between 2012 and 2018 alone and the killers have never been apprehended, according to reports from several press freedom groups both local and international. The impunity worsened after the 2013 violence.
South Sudan remains one of the most dangerous countries to practice journalism, according to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The Government has tightened restrictions on content criticizing them. Today, media houses and individual journalists become extraordinary careful by applying the high level of self-censorship and avoid reporting on controversial topics.
Most of the threats against journalists in South Sudan often have frightening effects and this had inculcated fear among the media fraternity and individual reporters in the country hence, depriving the public from their right to be informed and educated on the critical state matters. These threats include verbal, online, and physical attacks, kidnapping, and torture, harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearances and killing among others. All these are committed by senior government officials, military commanders and the National Security Service (NSS), the government spy body.
This impunity is happening despite the existing media law that is supposed to defend and protect press freedom in the country.
South Sudan is currently ranked 138 in press freedom global index, according to Reporters without Borders (RSF).
Therefore, the repression of media freedom and freedom of speech including the controlled of Judiciary by the government are the same crimes committed during the united old Sudan governments against the citizens and this implies that we have freed ourselves from the Arab repression in the North to yet another new Africa repression in South.
The author Mr. Joseph Oduha is a South Sudanese journalist. He can be reach by abunabet@gmail.