JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan has arrested two state broadcast journalists for failing to ensure coverage of a crucial speech by President Salva Kiir, a government official said on Sunday, prompting an outcry from an international media watchdog.
Journalists often complain of persecution by the security services of the African republic that seceded from Sudan in 2011. That year, Juba authorities closed a newspaper after it criticized Kiir for allowing his daughter to marry a foreigner.
The government of South Sudan’s Western Bahr El Ghazal state said it had detained two senior staff at its broadcaster for “administrative issues” after the station failed to cover Kiir’s visit to the town of Wau last month.
“They were arrested simply because when the president arrived here in Wau on December 22, 2012, he gave a very, very important speech,” state information minister Derrick Alfred Uya told Reuters.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based media watchdog, named the detained pair as Louis Pasquale, director-general of the state broadcaster in Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Ashab Khamis, director of state television.
The committee said the two had been arrested probably as part of a campaign to stop the media from investigating recent unrest in Wau. Soldiers shot dead 10 people protesting against the relocation of a local council last month, triggering more violence in the town located close to the Sudan border.
“We call on authorities to release Louis Pasquale and Ashab Khamis immediately, and allow journalists to cover events in the state without facing intimidation or arrest,” CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes said in a statement.
A local journalist said security agents had been pressuring reporters in Wau to find out who had provided foreign news channels such as Qatar’s Jazeera English with a tape which purportedly shows the shooting of unarmed protesters in Wau.
“I heard they arrested the journalists because they suspect the tape comes from state television,” said the reporter, asking not to be named. “They were worried when the tape was shown on Jazeera.”
South Sudan is a country with no media law, making it difficult for reporters to get information as the government and security services are mainly made up of ex-guerrillas who are used to impunity, a legacy of decades of civil war with Sudan.
Last month, unknown gunmen shot dead prominent blogger and government critic Diing Chan Awuol at his home.
France-based Reporters Without Borders ranked South Sudan 111th out of 179th in its 2011-2012 press freedom index.
Reporting by Carl Odera and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich