Many members of the opposition in South Sudan’s parliament say the atmosphere in the house is stifling.
Juol Nhomngek Daniel, a National Legislative Assembly member, said the National Security Service’s presence at the parliament has created an atmosphere of fear among those not aligned with the government in Juba.
“There is high level of intimidation and high level of restrictions of freedom of speech in the Assembly [because] members of [the] National Security are deployed everywhere in the Assembly,” he said.
On February 22, Daniel and other Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition MPs called a news conference on Assembly grounds, which security personnel disrupted. They confiscated recorders and detained eight journalists working for various media houses in South Sudan, including VOA.
John Agany, chairperson of the Information Committee and Assembly spokesperson, told VOA the press conference was unauthorized and blamed journalists for attending.
“It was an illegal activity, by the way. It was not part of the parliamentary procedure. Any member of parliament has no rights to summon any person [journalist] in South Sudan for a press conference without prior consultation,” Agany said.
Daniel disagreed, saying that no law in South Sudan prevents lawmakers from holding press conferences to tell the public about Assembly problems.
“They have not understood their duties,” he said, adding that “Article 77 of our constitution is very clear. A member of the Assembly does not need to seek for clarification or permission from the leadership of the Assembly.”
Agany does not have the authority to stop members of the parliament from interacting with the media, Daniel said.
“Agany is the head of a specialized committee on communications. He is dealing with the Ministry of [Information]. He does not deal with issues of the national parliament,” Daniel added.
The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement condemning the arrest of eight journalists.
VOA’s South Sudan in Focus radio program made several calls to John Kumuri, the public relations officer at the National Security Service, for comments about the arrests of journalists but received no response.