Six journalists have been detained in South Sudan over the leaked video of President Salva Kiir that went viral, the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) has said.
Joval Tombe, Cherbek Ruben, Victor Lado, Joseph Oliver, Jacob Benjamin, and Mustafa Osman – all working for the state-run broadcaster South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC) – were arrested this week, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
They work for SSBC, which did not air the viral footage.
The Committee called for the immediate and unconditional release of the scribes.
As of Friday evening, CPJ said the six remained in detention at the National Security Service headquarters known as Blue House.
Further, CPJ said the managing director of South Sudan’s Media Authority, a statutory regulator, declined to comment, saying he was “out of office”.
The CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative Muthoki Mumo said the arrests match a “pattern of security personnel resorting to arbitrary detention whenever officials deem coverage unfavorable”.
“Authorities should unconditionally release these six SSBC employees and ensure that they can work without further intimidation or threat of arrest,” Ms. Mumo said.
The Union of Journalists of South Sudan, which had previously denied claims that the journalists were being detained, has now called for a speedy conclusion to the investigations.
The union has said that the detained journalists are suspected of having information on how the footage was leaked.
In a statement dated January 6 signed by the UJOSS president and seen by The EastAfrican, the union called for “a speedy conclusion to the investigation of the six staff of South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC) who are currently in the custody of the National Security Service.”
“If there is a prima facie case of professional misconduct or offense then let authorities expedite an administrative or legal process to address the issue in a fair, transparent [manner] and in accordance with the law.”
Mr. Oyet added that the union will continue to work with all stakeholders, including security agencies, to ensure a “good environment for all journalists to foster mutual understanding for the development of South Sudan.”
Having attained independence in 2011, the arrests dent the young country’s international image with respect to freedom of speech.
Mr Kiir has been president since the country gained its independence and has postponed elections several times. The next vote is scheduled for 2024.
In 2022, Reporters Without Borders ranked South Sudan at 128 of 180 countries in terms of press freedom, falling by more than 10 places below the 2021 index.