South Sudan TV editor says security agent threatened him with gun

Reuters News
Posted: May 31, 2013 1:58 PM

By Hereward Holland

JUBA (Reuters) - The head of South Sudan's only private television station said he was threatened at gunpoint by a national security agent who was attempting to censor its news programs.

Nhial Bol, managing editor of Citizen TV in Juba, said the official showed up at his office late on Thursday and demanded that he hand over the broadcast schedule as well as all news materials relating Vice President Riak Machar.

"He pulled out his pistol and said he was ready to shoot anybody who didn't show him respect," Bol told Reuters.

"He said he would shut down the station if we didn't cooperate. This is censorship," said Bol who also heads the Citizen daily newspaper.

The ministries of national security and information were not immediately available for comment on the accusation.

Rights groups say the harassment of journalists by state security officers has already eroded press freedom and led to self-censorship in Africa's youngest nation, just two years after it gained independence from its long-time foe Sudan.

Bol said senior security officers apologized to the station on Friday but that agents would be deployed to all media houses to monitor and censor news from now on.

Last month, the New York-based advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to President Salva Kiir urging him to prosecute security agents responsible for repeated harassing, intimidating and detaining journalists.

In April, Kiir, who heads the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), halted a reconciliation initiative launched by Machar to end tribal and rebel violence, which had been viewed as an attempt by his deputy to raise his profile ahead of an anticipated contest for the party leadership.

The two men were on opposing sides of a split within the SPLM during much of the 1983-2005 civil war that ended after the two factions reunited.

"The whole thing is related to the (ruling party) and contesting for the 2015 elections," Bol said.

This year, South Sudan slipped 13 places to 124 out of 179 countries on the world press freedom index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

(Editing by Ulf Laessing and Sonya Hepinstall)