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Death threats to South Sudan journalist covering Sudan unrest
By Joseph Oduha
January 18, 2019
Unless the world’s media comes to his aid, Michael Christopher could well become the 14th South Sudanese journalist killed for daring to present facts that displease the country’s government.
Christopher is editor-in-chief of Al-Watan, an Arabic-language daily published in Juba, which is the capital of South Sudan.
Like much of Africa’s media, Al-Watan has been covering the unrest sweeping Sudan.
This coverage earned Christopher an order from the South Sudan Media Authority. It was issued on January 7th, and commanded him to apologize within 72 hours to the government of Sudan for having been “supportive of the unrest” – and to desist from reporting on it.
Christopher refused to do such, stating that this coverage was SOP (standard operating procedure) for any newspaper in the region.
Christopher’s refusal to apologize triggered a spate of telephone calls. Each was from an unknown caller and number, all the calls had the same chilling message: ‘you are going to face the music for not having apologized.’
“Late on Friday, someone called me and stated that “we gave you 72 hours to write a letter of apology. Since you didn’t do that, you will bear all the consequences,” Mr. Christopher stated in an interview broadcast on Juba’s Eye Radio station.
As the past amply shows, such threats are unfortunately to be taken very seriously. Nearly all of the 13 journalists killed in South Sudan since the country’s gaining of independence in 2011 received such warnings prior to being murdered. Provided by the US embassy in Juba, this figure makes South Sudan one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters.
Christopher is by no means the only journalist whose life and work have come under threat. Quite the opposite.
Government-initiated harassment has caused a number of Christopher’s colleagues to give up their profession and to flee the country.
This harassment is a follow-up to the ban issued last week by the South Sudan Media Authority, which proclaimed a prohibition on the coverage of the unrest in Sudan.
“The ongoing protests in Sudan are internal affairs of a friendly nation. As such, the media in South Sudan are not to write or broadcast instigative statements and comments about it,” stated Sapana Abuyi, the Authority’s acting director.