By Garang Abraham Malak/Koang Pal Chang
This year, South Sudan’s civil war entered its fifth year with UN report saying the government continues to censor the media and restrict freedom of expression.
In a report released on 22-Feb-2018 by UN Human Rights Office, the UN warns that restrictions on freedom of expression are having a “chilling effect” and are shrinking the space for debate in South Sudan.
It stated that South Sudan will achieve real reconciliation and lasting peace if people are free and safe to express their views regardless of their ethnic or political backgrounds.
The report also said that the victims include civil society activists, dissidents, and journalists who exercise self-censorship for fear of retaliation.
South Sudan transitional constitution of 2011, bill of rights states that: – “Every citizen shall have the right to the freedom of expression, reception and dissemination of information, publication, and access to the press without prejudice to public order, safety or morals as prescribed by law.”
Article 19 of the universal declaration of human rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Eye Radio in partnership with UNESCO and Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) this month launched a brand new program which focuses on issues of freedom of expression, gender equality, combating hate speech and access to information.
As we #SpeakOut about Freedom of Expression in South Sudan, we asked the listeners about the four letter word? #WeNeedToTalk, on SPEAK OUT! Program.
In the first edition, the program presenters and guest discussed about freedom of expression which is a fundamental human right – a right which majority of the South Sudanese population do not fully enjoy. The show also asked the public “how they secure the right to freedom of expression,” and how they think they can express themselves without consequences.
Eye Radio’s studio guest for the show Mary Ajith, the Director of Catholic Radio Network, also the Chairperson of Association for Media Development in South Sudan shared her views on challenges/dangers’ surrounding freedom of expression in South Sudan and how a conducive environment can be created for people to express their rights -which can also lead to the protection of other rights.
Ms Ajith called on the listeners to claim their rights such as freedom of association and access to information. She also called on the relevant authorities to accord every with the opportunity to exercise their rights without any form of enfringement. She stated that “not all South Sudanese are aware about freedom of expression” as one of their fundamental rights.
“South Sudanese should know is that rights are not given for free, there is no day that one will be grantee to practice his/her own right freely, you have to claim your right to speak out but avoid hate speech which could lead to somebody claiming back your rights.” Ajith explained.
The Chairperson urges community leaders to restructure their societies and traditions mostly traditions that she said bars women from speaking in public.
“I have representatives who are representing me in various government institutions, for resistant if a teacher is not teaching my child well, should I keep quiet and say I am women and I can’t comment on my child’s education” said Ajith.
As part of the new program, Winnie Joan, a 22 year-old narrated her story about a job offer from a patron visiting her mother’s tea-room shop in Munuki. It was a case of sexual exploitation and abuse. Winnie said she didn’t know that the ordeal would one day lead her to launch her own youth newspaper.
“He took my papers, he said he would give me a call when am ready for an interview, after sometime, he called and said everything is fine and he asked me of a gift after the job, then I told him that I will take him out for lunch but he insisted and asked for sex as exchange for the job and I told him to go give that job to his sister.” Winnie narrated.
Winnie stressed that the scenario made her to initiate a school campaign program that educates students on how to detect job-sex exploitations. She initiated “The Voice” newspaper that acts as a youth platform for speaking out.
Meanwhile, a text message from an active Eye Radio listener in Yambio reads: “There is a very big issue in Yambio about the incentives that were donated by UK-Aid to teachers in South Sudan, teachers have received them once and if we talk about it, we will be arrested.”
For his side via phone call during the program, Samuel Sobah said: “Youth are harassed when they are found in associations or forums especially in football grounds and markets and thus has led many youth to fear and don’t speak out anymore.”
Some selected comments posted on Eye Radio Facebook Page in regards to the program are as follow;
Abraham Deng Jok said: “Before we talk, how safe are we?”
Kasio Oromo Otulubamoi comment reads: “But how can you speak out about freedom of expression while you are in the lion’s den? How many journalists, human rights activist, critics, etc. are daily imprisoned or killed like Abraham and Vuni, etc. or imprisoned and rot in the Juba worse prison, is there any protection offered or has the government stopped killing and imprisoning his opponents’? I want to know.”
Buay Joshua De Kapduel comments reads: “There is nothing like freedom of expression in South Sudan only bullets.”
Ojok Dominic Gilton from Nyakuron said: “People are being arrested, detained without trail and this seem to be against freedom of expression. What do you have to say on this issues?”
The Chairperson of Association for Media Development in South Sudan stressed that environment in the country is not democratic and thus makes freedom of expressions restrictive.
“We have circumstances where by, those who know that freedom of expression is their right and spoke out end up being arrested.” She said.
“Our societies and religions are having some restrictions on what one can share with other people, what opinions one can have in public and that’s why many people don’t share their feelings on important issues.” Mary Ajith explained.
Ms Ajith also said she has seen people arrested, intimidated, harassed and others not given rights to associate and assemble which has continuously blocked citizen’s space to discuss developmental issues in their communities.
According to a Cessation of Hostilities agreement signed by the government and various South Sudanese stakeholders in December, harassing media personnel is a ceasefire violation.