S. Sudan: Rights group urges reversal of decision suspending university professor

File: Human Rights Watch Logo

February 12th 2020 (Nyamilepedia) – The Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday urged the administration of the University of Juba to reverse a decision suspending a renowned university professor over an open letter to the US government regarding South Sudan’s states controversy.

Professor Taban Lo Liyong of the University of Juba wrote an open letter to a US delegation visiting South Sudan last month appealing to the Trump Administration to put pressure on the government of President Salva Kiir to accept the return of the country to the previous ten states.

Liyong asserted in the letter that the decision by President Salva Kiir in October 2015 to redraw states borders and increase their number violates the country’s transitional constitution.

He said the politics of increasing the number of states to 32 (plus the disputed Abyei region) was perpetuated by politicians he didn’t name and whom he said want to “corner the resources of the country to help them and look up to their political and economic affairs.”

In reaction, the administration of the University of Juba suspended Liyong charging him with what it said is incitement of “ethnic hatred” and putting the name of the institution into “disrepute.”

“Based on the above concerns, the Vice-Chancellor has directed your suspension from your duties…pending investigation by a committee to be constituted to look into the case,” the letter dated February 10th reads.

This afternoon, the HRW urged the administration of the University of Juba to “immediately reverse Liyong’s suspension and ensure students and faculty can engage in uninhibited dialog on matters of public importance.”

Separately, Nyagoah Pur, a researcher for the Human Rights Watch’s African Division who authored the call for reversal of the decision, told Nyamilepedia that the suspension, although taken by the university administration, “is symbolic of a pattern by which the government silences critics. It’s very important that as the country enters a transitional period, opposing views are allowed.”

She called on the government of South Sudan along with its international partners to work toward ensuring a conducive environment for freedom of expression.

“Certainly, there’s a need for the government and international partners to ensure free space. The restrictions are not only limited to academics but to journalists, activists and others with dissenting views,” she said.

The measure against Liyong is not the first of its kind. In 2015, Dr. Luka Biong, then head of the Juba university’s Centre for Peace and Development, was expelled from the institution and was forced to exile.

The expulsion followed a public rally organized by Biong in which the 2015 creation of new states was debated along with the federal system of governance.

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