South Sudanese newspaper editor arrested on World Press Freedom Day
A newspaper editor has been detained in the capital of South Sudan for allegedly inciting violence. The journalist is being held at the Northern Division Police Headquarters in Juba.
Michael Koma is the managing editor of the Juba Monitor, a newspaper formerly known as Khartoum Monitor and headed by Alfred Taban.
The paper last Saturday was informed that the Deputy Minister of Interior Salva Mathok has brought a case against it for publishing a press release by the Nuer community of Mayom County, accusing the official of involvement in a crime.
Koma was informed of the case on Saturday and subsequently summoned to police offices on Monday and Wednesday, but not kept for long. Such repeated summons are a regular practice of security forces in South Sudan.
Upon reporting to the police office at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, Koma was detained and told he would be kept for 24 hours. “The conditions are very horrible,” he told Radio Tamazuj in an interview.
Koma is being kept in a cell with eight prisoners. They are not let out to use the latrine but instead use plastic bottles as a toilet.
The journalist said he was told he would be kept in custody until tomorrow and that he cannot be released before his boss Alfred Taban returns from Nairobi.
“Maybe they are going to arrest him too,” Koma said, expecting that either he will be released upon Taban’s arrival in Juba or both of them will be detained.
The journalist’s wife Stella Vitaliano told Radio Tamazuj that she called her husband yesterday afternoon. “Michael is away,” said a man who answered his phone.
“Right away I understood that he was in the prison,” she said, adding that he had told her that morning when he left home that he expected he might be arrested that day.
Twice she visited her husband in prison, once to bring tea this morning and once to bring him supper. She also brought him a bed sheet but the officers refused to allow her to give it to him.
‘This is a fight for press freedom’
The editor of another newspaper in Juba said that he does not expect Koma to be released until after Alfred Taban returns from Nairobi. He said that the press statement published from the Mayom Community had accused the deputy interior minister of involvement in the murder of a youth whose body was found in a drainage ditch near his home last month.
The statements published from the Mayom Community provoked a response from the government. “That’s what put Koma in, because the authorities say it is inciting tribal clashes,” said the editor, who preferred not to be named..
Juba Monitor had already come under pressure last month when the national security service twice summoned Alfred Taban to explain some of the paper’s reporting.
“This is a fight for freedom of press in South Sudan. We hope the world will pay attention to the violation of press rights in South Sudan,” Koma said. He appealed for the minister of information to lobby parliament to pass press laws, pointing out that there are no laws in the country to protect journalists.
Reporting by Radio Tamazuj
Photo: Michael Koma in Washington, DC, during a visit to the United States of America as a World Press Freedom Fellow (IREX).
Update, 5 May 2013: Michael Koma has today been released.