South Sudanese authorities must investigate assaults on journalists covering anti-United States protests this week in the capital city, Juba, the International Press Institute (IPI) said today.
The attacks occurred on Tuesday as hundreds of South Sudanese demonstrated against a recent United States arms embargo in front of the United States embassy and United Nations mission headquarters.
According to reports citing witnesses in the crowd, the protest proceeded peacefully at first, but turned violent after protesters delivered a petition to the United States embassy expressing disappointment over the embargo. Members of the crowd then attacked reporters covering the scene, including an Associated Press journalist, a German freelancer and a local journalist. None of the journalists sustained serious injuries, though some required medical treatment.
The protests were a response to the United States’s decision last Friday to ban arms exports to South Sudan in an attempt to bring the country’s four-year-old civil war to an end. The United States, which itself has not sold weapons to South Sudan, has said it hopes that the embargo would lead to a global weapons export ban against the war-ravaged state.
IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen urged the South Sudanese government to investigate the assaults and strongly condemn the violence.
“South Sudan should send a strong message to the public that violence against journalists will not be tolerated”, he said. “The authorities have an obligation not only to investigate this incident fully but also to take appropriate measures in order to protect journalists’ right to safely cover demonstrations in the future.”
South Sudan, where the ongoing civil war has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced more than four million people to leave their homes since it began in December 2013, is one of the more dangerous countries in the world for journalists. According to IPI’s Death Watch, at least nine journalists have lost their lives in connection with their work since fighting broke out.
The most recent case is that of American freelance journalist Christopher Allen, who was killed in South Sudan in August 2017 after he got caught in the middle of a heavy battle between government troops and rebel fighters. Allen was reportedly killed by a bullet from the government side.
The South Sudanese government has refused to probe the killing, claiming Allen had “entered the country illegally to work alongside rebels”. IPI strongly condemned the government’s inaction, urging authorities to investigate the case and reminding the South Sudanese government that journalists should not be treated as combatants or targets, regardless of whom they accompany on their reporting missions.
Authorities in the country regularly close and block news outlets, and arrest journalists in response to reporting on the war, as IPI has previously noted. The Union of Journalists in South Sudan has catalogued more than a dozen instances in which journalist have been beaten, detained or denied access to information.