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South Sudan Lawmakers Allege Harassment by Security Operatives

South Sudanese lawmaker Okello Odongtoo, after an alleged assault, at a detention center of joint security forces in Juba, South Sudan, July 2023.

JUBA — The recent alleged assault on South Sudanese state representative Okello Odongtoo by unidentified security personnel has raised concern among lawmakers in the nation's capital, Juba, about harassment by security operatives.

Odongtoo, a representative for Eastern Equatoria State in the Council of States, the upper chamber of South Sudan's legislature, alleges an assault by unidentified security personnel, including police and National Security Service agents, involved physical violence, theft of personal belongings, and accusations of possessing undisclosed foreign currency.

In an interview with VOA, Odongtoo asserted though the personnel were generally "well behaved," he was physically assaulted by one of the agents at the market while exchanging money for construction materials. Subsequently, they detained him after questioning the source of his funds.

"The person who punched me, who broke my ID, he was also drunk, so he was under the influence of alcohol," Odongtoo said.

Odongtoo was released without charge, but he says the experience has prompted him to call upon the government to educate security forces about the rights of South Sudanese citizens.

Maj. Gen. Daniel Justin, the spokesman of the South Sudan National Police Service, SSNPS, told VOA the police service is aware of the incident and is actively investigating the matter.

He urged citizens to promptly report cases of abuse by security forces to ensure appropriate action is taken against the culprits.

Similarly, Paulino Luduku, a member of Central Equatoria State legislature and former state information minister, recounted an incident in which armed men, possibly security agents, assaulted him at gunpoint, taking away some of his valuable items.

"There were two vehicles involved, one V8 and one Land Cruiser, carrying seven people who tried to kidnap me. They broke into my car and took away some valuable items," said Luduku.

Addressing the escalating issue of harassment, Maj. Gen. Justin emphasized that no one is above the law, and security forces found to have harassed lawmakers will face penalties.

"MPs have their immunity. Whenever there is a case in which they are party to it, then there is a special process to be taken such that he is to be brought to the law. So that case, we are still investigating to find out those involved," Justin said.

South Sudanese lawyer Ajo Noel condemned the actions of the security forces involved in Okello Odongtoo's arrest, stating that they violated the nation's laws and tarnished the image of security agents.

He also emphasized the need for enhanced knowledge and training for the organized security personnel.

"It is something that weighs badly on the image of the organized forces, be it the police, CID, or the military intelligence if they were involved in the process," Noel said. "That says a lot about our institutional strength given the fact that there is a weakness in terms of knowledge and in terms of training for our organized security agents," Noel added.