Press Release

Ateny Wek’s press conference against Biar Ajak demonstrates Kiir’s profound weakness and desperation

Presidential Spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny gesture as he speak to the media - September 2016 (File photo)
Presidential Spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny gesture as he speak to the media – September 2016 (photo credit: supplied)

August 7, 2020(Nyamilepedia)On August 5, 2020, South Sudan’s Office of the President announced, see attached notice below, that it would be holding a press conference in Juba on Friday August 7, 2020, to respond to the announcement Peter Biar Ajak made in an oped published by the Wall Street Journal on July 23, 2020, entitled “My Escape to America Shows the Price of Dissent in South Sudan.” 

That oped was published after the United States granted Peter and his family emergency visas to travel to the U.S. because President Kiir had sent a death squad after him and after they had arrived at Washington Dulles Airport. The very fact South Sudan’s Government is even holding this press conference demonstrates the profound weakness and desperation of President Kiir and Gen. Akol Koor Kuc, who runs the abusive National Security Service (NSS).

It shows they are incredibly afraid of Peter and that his announcement rightly caused enormous further damage to their credibility.  The Government must also realize it is fighting a battle it has already lost.  It actually isn’t just simply Peter claiming a death squad was sent after him, despite what the Government asserts.  The United States independently assessed the evidence and agreed it was credible and Peter’s life was in danger.  If it hadn’t then he would never have had his requests for emergency visas granted.  And the Wall Street Journal itself conducted its own independent fact-finding regarding his announcement in his oped, including a review by its lawyers, and would never have published it unless it was fully satisfied his claims were accurate and not libelous.

In response to the announcement of the press conference, Peter issued the following statement:

I welcome the Office of the President of South Sudan’s announcement it now wants transparency and accountability with regards to how it has treated me as a political prisoner and later after it forced me into exile.  But holding a private press conference will not achieve that goal.  If the Government truly believes these allegations are false, then there are three simple steps it must follow:

First, the Government should make this a publicly-available press conference and announce immediately it will be broadcasted live, online.  That way their allegations can be viewed firsthand around the world so their credibility can be assessed in real time.

Second, it should announce at the press conference that it will immediately allow unrestricted access to the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the Blue House and all NSS prisons.  In 2019, the ICRC reported it visited some 5,700 detainees in South Sudan general prisons.  But having been a political prisoner in the Blue House over that time, I know for a fact it was never allowed into the Blue House.  The Government cannot be allowed to simply assert that NSS prisons are free from widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, and sexual abuse of prisoners when there is direct evidence available of such crimes from former prisoners.  If the Government has nothing to fear, it will throw open the gates of the Blue House, allow the ICRC in, and allow it to conduct unrestricted and unmonitored interviews with the prisoners detained there.

Finally, the Government claims it will be disputing my announcement I had to flee Nairobi to avoid a death squad sent on orders of President Kiir.  But talk is meaningless.  If the Government was really so confident that my claim is false, then President Kiir and Gen. Kuc wouldn’t be safely instructing the Government to hold a private press conference in Juba, they would have already sued the Wall Street Journal in New York for libel.

I issue this challenge to President Kiir: Come prove to the world in a U.S. Federal Court you didn’t send a death squad to abduct or murder me in Nairobi.  If you win – which you will not because the facts are clear – I will apologize to you publicly.  But if you lose, then you must resign, as South Sudan surely deserves a President who does not order assassinations of his political opponents.  Either way, it has been nine years since you were appointed President and you must face South Sudan’s voters by December 2021.  The people of South Sudan deserve a President they elected and one who will have democratic legitimacy and bring peace and national reconciliation to South Sudan.

Even independent of the Government’s announcement it will hold this press conference, there is other dramatic evidence since Peter’s oped was published that the Government is scrambling to try and discredit Peter by forcing his prior supporters in South Sudan to publicly bear false witness against him, because their lives and security are being privately threatened.

As one example, only being made public in this press release, consider the case of Archbishop Elias Taban, who runs the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Sudan.  The Archbishop, to his credit, had begun speaking with President Kiir and Gen. Kuc urging leniency for Peter from the first few months of his arrest when he was being investigated for treason and other false potential charges.  Shortly before Peter’s pardon and release in January 2020, President Kiir called the Archbishop to a private meeting and asked him to be a guarantor that if released Peter would not speak publicly about what he witnessed in the Blue House.  As a result, and in deference to the Archbishop’s assistance, when Peter traveled to Nairobi and was in exile, he did not speak out publicly about what had happened.  But the moment Peter learned from several high-level South Sudanese officials that a death squad had been dispatched to abduct or murder him, Peter considered President Kiir’s decision a release of his prior agreement to keep silent about what he experienced.

Peter ultimately arrived in the United States and published his oped in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday July 23rd and held a press conference on Friday July 24th.  On Monday July 27th, Gen. Kuc and a number of his top generals hired a private plane and flew from Juba to Yei, traveled to the Archbishop’s home, threatened him, and demanded he return to Juba with them to appear on the state-run South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation’s national television station to discredit Peter.  Under severe coercion, the Archbishop appeared and called Peter a traitor on national television, also claiming he had not actually suffered in prison.  But in a private text to Peter just three hours later, the Archibishop told him: “You need rest from all the suffering you had in prison and your family needs healing from the stress they have undergone.”  Unfortunately, since then, the Government has expanded its efforts to forcibly recruit people to speak out against Peter and his description of what has happened to him in both Nairobi and the Blue House.

In response to these developments, Peter’s pro bono counsel Jared Genser remarked “It is really extraordinary to see how far President Kiir and Gen. Kuc are going to try and discredit Peter.  They are delusional if they believe that any objective observer that matters in the international community will believe their lies.  And the people of South Sudan know better than anyone the shocking brutality they have imposed on real or imagined dissenters to maintain their iron grip on power.”

Read: Ateny Wek’s full press briefing here

For further information, contact Jared Genser through his email at jgenser@perseus-strategies.com

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