A United Nations human rights expert today urged the Government of South Sudan to immediately release Alfred Taban, a prominent journalist and chief editor of the daily English newspaper, Juba Monitor.
Mr. Taban was arrested on 16 July by National Security Services agents, one day after the publication of an editorial article in which he called for the removal of the South Sudan President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar, criticizing them for their unsuccessful implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement. He is currently being held without charges.
“It is crucial for a country seeking to establish peace and stability that it takes active steps to encourage freedom of expression for everyone,” said David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, referring to the recently installed transitional Government. “Any pressure against journalists based on the content of their reporting represents regressive steps that South Sudan cannot afford to take.”
Mr. Taban's opinion piece came as a response to the violent clashes in Juba on 7 July, between government forces loyal to the President Kiir and those loyal to the First Vice-President Machar, leaving hundreds of people killed. The incident was recently described as a clear breach of the peace agreement by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani.
“The arrest and detention of Mr. Taban are unlawful as they are directly linked to the legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of expression,” said Mr. Kaye in a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The Special Rapporteur noted that the detention of Mr. Taban is the latest in a series of attacks against journalists and media in South Sudan, which have been on the rise since the beginning of the mid-December 2013 conflict. Several journalists have reportedly been killed or detained without trial, and a number of newspapers have been ordered to shut down.
Mr. Kaye urged South Sudanese authorities to halt the targeting of journalists and to uphold the right to freedom of expression, guaranteed to everyone under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
His statement has also been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.