By Terry Swartzberg and Francis Michael Gwang
March 22, 2019
After more than seven excruciating months of languishing in a hellhole of a prison in South Sudan, Peter Biar Ajak – and seven other human and environmental rights activists – was arraigned on March 21 on a wide variety of trumped-charges.
The charges range from insurgency and banditry to conducting unlawful drills.
Observers report that Peter Biar – not surprisingly in view of his ordeal – looks weak and frail.
Biar and the other defendants were denied bail and reassignment to more centrally located and “humane” prison. They were granted the right to medical attention.
The arraignment is to be followed on March 25 by a trial.
Peter’s case has attracted worldwide attention, with Amnesty International, the UN and representatives of the USA’s Congress demanding his immediate release.
International oil companies – including Petronas of Malaysia, China National Petroleum and India’s ONGC – are believed to be behind Peter’s ordeal.
Peter was, after all, a co-founder of South Sudan Young Leaders’ Forum (SSYLF), which has become a well-respected advocate of political and environmental rights in South Sudan – and a voice speaking out against the forcible expulsion by oil companies-paid militias of South Sudanese from their homes and land.
Peter Biar Ajak was arrested on July 28, 2018, for purportedly “treason and other national security offenses”.
Peter was arrested at Juba airport. He was returning from abroad. Peter was getting a doctorate from Cambridge, one of the world’s most prestigious universities.
Quite an achievement for any student – especially one who had spent his childhood as a “Lost Boy” – a child forced by war to flee his home and scrabble for a living.
Peter went on to resettle in the United States. He went on to study at Philadelphia’s La Salle and Harvard Universities.
It was this defense of human rights that got him in trouble with the oil companies and with the Kiir regime in South Sudan, which has clamped down on any forms of opposition.
Peter is facing the death penalty upon conviction.
“South Sudan must immediately free human rights defender Peter Biar Ajak,” stated the UN’s Commission of Human Rights in South Sudan, in a statement released on March 6th.