Contributor's Opinion

Journalism in war times: The case of South Sudan


By Joseph Oduha, Nairobi, Kenya

Nov 01, 2020 (Nyamilepedia) — War is a debauched school worldwide. Its affects all facets of life. In war, all horrible human rights violations happened such as killing, children recruitment into armed force, rape, and sexual violence, corruption, extra-judicial killings, mass displacement of civilians from their homes, hunger and starvation, among others.

the body of the US Journalist, Christopher Allen, being given to US Embassy in South Sudan by the SPLA-ig(Photo: file)
the body of the US Journalist, Christopher Allen, being given to US Embassy in South Sudan by the SPLA-ig(Photo: file)

Following independence, South Sudan has been churned by civil war almost instantaneously. The war was originally about power struggled between rival leaders President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar who objected to his removal from office in 2013. In this war, serious atrocities outlined above have been committed both in Juba, Bor, Malakal, Bentiu, Yei, Magwi and other parts countrywide where fighting between the rival factions happened.

The African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS) confirmed in its 2014 report the wide spread atrocities committed by both sides to the conflict and termed them as “war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The report says: “the Commission received evidence such as photographs documenting the violations. A forensic interpretation of the data was undertaken and an opinion rendered.”

It further says: “incidents documented are those earmarked by the Commission to be the most serious ones in terms of the number of victims, the scale of attacks and the level of atrocity of methods used in the violations. The Commission employed reasonable grounds to believe threshold in reaching its factual findings on individual cases, incidents, victims and patterns of violations. The factual determinations reach by the commission formed the basis of legal qualification of the violations both under Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.”

This war has caused unprecedented circumstances to journalism profession in the country. Freedom of the press and expression are held hostage since the onset of the conflict. So, reporting about the atrocities in a highly-regarded restrictive environment for press freedom like South Sudan, would earned you imprisonment or loss of life as a journalist. Dozens of local reporters including a foreign journalist, an American citizen Mr. Allen Christopher have been machine-gun to death in South Sudan in line of duty.

It’s almost impossible for journalists to keep themselves safe in South Sudan especially those who report on corruption, human rights violations such as extra-judicial killings, impunity against press freedom, enforced disappearances, and any sensitive topic deem critical of the government.

“Conditions for the press in South Sudan, difficult since the country gained independence in 2011, have deteriorated further since civil war broke out in December 2013,” Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) research revealed.

Senior government officials including President Kiir routinely openly issued public threats against critical reportage of the country’s affairs. Those journalists and media houses who defy the threats always pay the price either being jailed in infamous Blue House detention cell and the media house closed down.

I personally had been the victim of several summons by the chameleon security agency known as “South Sudan Media Authority” or SSMA for what they termed as “critical reportage”which they said portrays the country image negatively to the world. They warned me in February 2018 to stop being critical about the country.

However, I refused to bow to their warning and threat. So, I continued holding on to the topics of my reportage. But in June the same year, they summoned me again. So, I made up my mind and declined to attend it. I briefly left the country to let the situation calm a bit. I chose safe haven out of the country because it’s painful to go to jail for a crime you have never committed.

After a while outside home, I decided to return to Juba but this time I have also decided to change my byline (name) and used a pen name in my stories/articles. But that was not the end of the problem. On October 1st, 2019, I was again summoned in absentia over commentary on press freedom abuses in the country which was published by The Dawn daily in Juba on the exact date.

I believe I’m not alone who had experienced such tribulation in the profession but there must be many others who have gone through the same trial in silence. Several South Sudan journalists fled into exile and they didn’t chose by their own but the circumstances linked to their work as journalists. Most of them have equally quit the profession for their own life and the desire to be safe.

To date, there are sixty five media houses in South Sudan in total both (print, online and electronic) but only 10 of them are operational. Indeed, journalism profession in war times is very dangerous. It’s dangerous because all the antagonistic sides will turned against a journalist for reporting the atrocities they committed.

As we are marking “International Day to End Impunity Against Journalists” this November 2, 2020, I would like to appeal to the government of the republic of South Sudan and particularly President Kiir to put an end to unabated impunity against journalists in the country.

The media is the only sector that connects all other sectors of the society and therefore, journalists must be respected and protected.

The author Mr. Joseph Oduha is a South Sudanese journalist. He can be reach by abunabet@gmail.com

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