Since South Sudan’s split from the rest of the country in 2011, the rights of Sudanese reporters were restricted by the government. In December of 2013, however, however, the already precarious position of journalists was exacerbated by the war. Reporters were not permitted to publish anything relating to the ongoing war, what little coverage that was authorized by the government is highly censored. Some of the known human rights violations in South Sudan include harassment, persecution, and violence against journalists, as well as government-sanctioned restrictions of the right to speech, privacy, and press. Multiple media companies have been closed or restricted, articles are censored from newspapers, and online sites are blocked. Specific institutions as well as individuals are targeted for views that were seen as inciting hate speech or being anti-government, even when these viewpoints were not expressed publicly. Any discussion of corruption or unrest within the reigning political party, discontent within the country, or pro-militia stances could result in a cancellation or even jail time.
Non-Government Organizations such as Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International are in positions to offer assistance to persecuted reporters who, without outside interference, are likely living in danger of retaliation from the Sudanese government.
In 2015, Sudan’s president called for violence against journalists who reported on any topics that could be seen as inflammatory against the state. “If anybody among [journalists] does not know that this country has killed people, we will demonstrate it”. Only one day later, a Sudanese journalist named Peter Moi, a reporter for South Sudan’s Corporate Weekly, was shot and killed. He was the seventh journalist killed that year. In 2015 another reporter, Issac Vuni, was found dead months after he was kidnapped from his home. At least 10 journalists have been killed since 2011.
Since just the beginning of 2018, at least 15 journalists have been questioned, arrested, or charged for a variety of crimes, including tarnishing the reputation of the country. While shocking, the unfair targeting and censorship of journalists in Sudan is a common practice. Seven journalists were arrested in January of 2018 in Sudan. The journalists, some of whom worked for Reuters and Agence France-Presse, were covering peaceful economic protests in the capital. The Sudanese government was not open about why the arrests took place, what laws had been broken, or when the reporters would be released.
Wini Omer, a Sudanese journalist and women’s rights activist, was arrested and detained for five days in February 2018 on charges of prostitution, and was told she may also be charged with espionage. These charges carry the death penalty. Omer and many of her supporters believe that this is an intentional attack from the Sudanese government as retaliation for her investigations into violations of women’s rights. Omer said “They are trying to make us behave”.
On November 1st Salah Goush, Sudan’s head of National Intelligence Security Services, accused several Sudanese journalists of being spies. The journalists, who had met recently with western diplomats, were released from custody and all charges against them were dropped.
Reporters have been forced between fleeing their country or facing harassment, violence, or even death for refusing to censor their work.
Reporters Without Borders is an international NGO that protects freedom of expression and information. Based in Paris but known worldwide, RWB challenges governments and regimes from afar as well as from the ground. By increasing public awareness, offering information and training, and influencing leaders, this NGO has worked for 30 years to “increase the attention that governments pay to freedom of information”. Already established in South Sudan and connected with influential organizations such as the UN, Reporters Without Borders is in a strong position to offer assistance to Sudan.
Amnesty International is an NGO that works to protect the human rights of all people. AI “finds the facts, exposes what’s happening, and rallies people together” to fight governments and save lives. Extremely effective in mobilizing and acquiring results and globally established, Amnesty International could, with the State Department’s assistance, be highly productive in Sudan.