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Journalists' Union Urges South Sudan Security to Free Reporter

FILE - Stacks of South Sudanese newspapers sit on shelves in the office of the Association for Media Development in South Sudan in Juba, a day after The Citizen media group was ordered by government officials to shut down, May 6, 2019.

The Union of Journalists in South Sudan is calling on the government to release Jackson Ochaya, a journalist who was detained a week ago after he contacted a rebel group spokesman for a story.

A family member who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals told Ochaya’s newspaper, the No. 1 Citizen, that agents of the National Security Service (NSS) are holding Ochaya at their headquarters in Jebel.

Ochaya is likely being detained because he contacted the spokesman for the rebel National Salvation Front (NAS) for comment on an article he was writing, according to Oliver Modi, chairperson of the Union of Journalists in South Sudan.

Reporter, managing editor questioned

On August 31, the NSS summoned Ochaya and the newspaper’s acting managing editor, Stella Kiden, to their headquarters for questioning.

“The security just questioned those of the No. 1 newspaper on how they came to write that story and particularly their communication with, of course, the NAS. That’s the cause of everything, but according to the journalist, this is a balancing of a story. According to the principles of journalism, when you are writing a story, the story should not be a one-sided story,” Modi told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

Kiden said the NSS released her and Ochaya that evening, then asked Ochaya to return the following day to pick up his identity card.

Kiden said Ochaya returned to work at the paper on September 1 but later asked permission to leave so he could meet an uncle who had asked Ochaya to meet him in the Thingpiny residential area. That was the last time she saw him.

It is a mystery as to why security agents would release Ochaya on August 31 and detain him the next day, said Modi.

'What is the problem.'

“The family members found him in the national security office where he was being questioned. So now, the media authority and the Union of Journalists are wondering what is the problem again,” Modi told VOA.

The National Security Service has not commented on Ochoya’s detention.

The journalists’ union does not have the legal right to visit Ochaya at the detention center except through permission from the South Sudan Media Authority, said Modi.

Call for release of reporter

Modi called on the security operatives to release Ochaya immediately.

“I don’t see the reason why they actually called the journalist and his editor; they have talked, they have agreed, they then released this journalist to go and do their work and then after some hours, they then came back and took the journalist. They should not treat journalists like criminals,” Modi said.

Under South Sudan’s constitution, a detained person is supposed to appear in a court of law within 24 hours of their detention.

No. 1 Citizen management declined to comment in more detail.