South Sudanese Journalist Assaulted in Parliament / Press Freedom at Risk in World's Newest Nation
VIENNA, Austria, February 8, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- A South Sudanese journalist covering a session of the country's National Assembly yesterday was removed and later allegedly assaulted by security guards, according to news reports.
The incident is but the latest in a series of aggressive acts against journalists in South Sudan — raising doubts about the newly independent state's commitment to press freedom.
Mading Ngor of Bakhita Radio in Juba told the Sudan Tribune yesterday: “I entered the chamber of the assembly, got out my recorder and started recording proceedings. Moments later, an unidentified man walks up to me, asks why I was seated there and I explained to him. He could not listen to me. Instead he ordered four security officials to throw me out of the assembly.”
Multiple eyewitnesses, including other journalists, said the security guards followed Ngor outside, violently throwing him down to the floor and tearing his clothes. According to the Tribune, the assault ended only after a legislator intervened.
MP Joy Kwaje, chair of the Assembly's Information Committee, apologised for the security guards' action and promised to investigate the matter further, news reports said.
The motive for the removal and attack remained unclear. The South Sudanese Assembly's official Regulation of Sittings states: “The Assembly shall be open to the public, press, and visitors, unless the Speaker decides otherwise.”
In December 2011, a group of journalists covering a legislative debate on unrest in Juba, South Sudan's capital, were forced from the assembly on the orders of the deputy speaker, Daniel Awet Akot, the Tribune said. According to the Assembly's official procedures, the deputy speaker may exercise the duties of the speaker — and thus close the assembly to the press — at the latter's request. It was not known whether the speaker or deputy speaker was involved in yesterday's incident.
IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills said: “This was an unacceptable act of physical violence against a journalist who was simply doing his job. We continue to be troubled by the threats to press freedom in South Sudan. We call upon the South Sudanese government to respect the rights of all journalists.”
As IPI previously reported, South Sudanese authorities last November arrested two editors, Ngor Garang and Dengdit Ayok, who had been working for the now-banned Destiny newspaper. The two were held for 18 days before charges were dropped. They had reportedly been detained in connection with an op-ed published in Destiny's first issue, in which the author criticised South Sudan's President Salva Kiir for having allowed his daughter to marry a foreigner.