South Sudan: Release of political dissidents must be followed by action to protect freedom of expression

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the August 11 decision of the National Security Service to release 31 political detainees as part of the presidential amnesty declared earlier this year by President Salva Kiir. However, we urge the President to fulfil his May 2017 commitment to release all political prisoners in South Sudan, and take steps to improve the situation for freedom of expression in the country.

The detention of political dissidents has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country and discouraged citizens, religious leaders, civil society and politicians from not only making commentary on the state of the nation, but also highlighting human rights violations in the country.” said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Regional Director.

ARTICLE 19 is seriously concerned by the continued detention and attacks on journalists and civil society actors in the country in addition to the unreleased political dissidents. Media and civil society remain repressed institutions and oppressive regulations continue to stifle them in the country.

In the last review under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism in November 2016, South Sudan accepted a recommendation to:

‘Respect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly by allowing human rights defenders, political dissidents and journalists to express their views freely in line with international human rights law’

“This release has minimal impact in a country where there’s a litany of laws that repress the media and civil society. The government must amend these laws in line with international standards. Additionally, the National Security Service (NSS) is still a significant threat to freedom of expression in the country and amendment of security sector laws should also be a priority.” added Maina.

Between 2014 and 2016, at least 20 people have died in different detention camps in Juba alone with no information available about deaths in other camps in the country.

ARTICLE 19 urges the South Sudanese government to:

  1. Carry out a full investigation into arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, death and torturous treatment by security agencies, in particuler the NSS, as a means to curb impunity for human rights violations against citizens, civil society, and journalists in the country.
  2. Release all other political dissidents, citizens, journalists, and civil society held for exercising their right to freedom of expression as per the South Sudanese constitution.
  3. Make concerted efforts to consolidate the protection of freedom of expression in the country through aligning media, civil society, and security sector laws with international human rights standards.