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South Sudanese journalist released after weeks-long detention without charge

Michael Christopher was held for six weeks without charge [AFP]

Date of publication: 26 August, 2019

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South Sudanese journalist Michael Christopher was previously targeted by the authorities for his reporting on protests in Sudan.

A prominent South Sudanese journalist said on Monday he had been released after almost six weeks in detention without charge.

The case prompted alarm from rights groups over press freedom in the restive nation.

"I stayed inside for 39 days and there were no charges put against me... that is why, they decided to release me," said Michael Christopher, chief editor of the Arabic-language daily Al-Watan.

Christopher and his wife were last month pulled off a flight to Nairobi, where he had intended to travel for medical treatment.

He was held without charge at the National Security Service headquarters before being released this weekend.

The US, international and local rights groups protested at his detention, which Human Rights Watch described as "the latest brazen attack against freedom of the press in South Sudan".

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had earlier this month called for Christopher's release and for the authorities to halt the "harassment of his publication".

Christopher told AFP he had been treated well, and was mainly questioning about comments he had made to Voice of America radio about the closure of his newspaper and death threats he had received.

"Those who called me and threatened me with death were not the media authority, but it was individuals and I had opened a legal case against them," he said. 

The journalist had invoked the ire of authorities by writing about this year's protests in Sudan.

South Sudanese authorities reportedly told Christopher to stop writing about the pro-democracy protests against former President Omar al-Bashir, which constituted "internal political issues of a friendly neighboring country".

His newspaper was effectively shut down when the authorities failed to renew its license in March.

Christopher said he hopes to re-open the newspaper shortly.

South Sudan ranks 139 out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2019 global press freedom index.

RSF says years of civil war have weakened the media, and government pressure means self-censorship is rife. 

From 2014 to 2017, at least 10 journalists were killed in South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011.

 

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