South Sudan authorities have detained a freelance journalist affiliated with VOA for a fourth straight day. Diing Magot was arrested while covering a peaceful protest over soaring commodity prices.
Magot was arrested Sunday after covering a small demonstration at the Konyokonyo market in Juba, then taken to Malakia police station where she was detained for three days before being transferred to the Juba Central Prison.
Magot has not committed any crime and has been detained for well over 24 hours, a violation of the transitional constitution, said Oyet Patrick, president of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS).
“The court has authority to either remand the accused in prison or to release him or her on bail,” Patrick told VOA's South Sudan in Focus program.
Patrick also asserted that a legal team representing Magot were denied access to their client on Tuesday which he said also violates the constitution. He said Magot admitted she was not carrying identification on Sunday.
The South Sudan Media Authority — a government regulatory body — asked VOA to provide a letter confirming that Magot was on assignment. VOA Public Relations Officer Anna Morris said in a statement Tuesday that the broadcaster had "provided the letter to the media authority" and called for the "immediate release" of Magot.
South Sudan National Police Service spokesperson Major General Daniel Justin told South Sudan in Focus Magot will not be harmed while in police custody.
“I am assuring you that there is nothing that will happen to her if she is innocent. If she is innocent, she will be freed. If she’s not innocent, she will face the law,” Justin said.
Magot and six others were arrested while covering a small protest over soaring food prices in South Sudan.
Information Minister Michael Makuei told South Sudan in Focus the South Sudan Media Authority is following up on Magot’s case.
“The journalist was saying she was a journalist but she did not have any ID card or anything to show she was a journalist; this was why she was arrested, according to the police. So it is the duty of the Media Authority to investigate that and find out how far is that true,” Makuei said.
The South Sudan Media Authority told VOA it is not yet in a position to comment on the arrest.
The United States Embassy in Juba expressed concern over Magot’s arrest in a statement Tuesday and called on authorities “to immediately release” Magot.
Some journalists in Juba say Magot's arrest proves South Sudanese authorities don’t respect democracy or a free press.
"They don’t respect the code of conduct and media laws. All these acts were put in place for South Sudan's press space to be respected. Why arrest a journalist who is doing her own job of informing the community?” journalist Garang Abraham told South Sudan in Focus.
He said if authorities think Magot committed a crime, they should charge her in a court of law.
Dhel Malual Dut, a freelance photographer with AFP news agency, said he’s disappointed that Magot is still detained.
“It was wrong to keep her in detention for this long, so I demand she be released as she was practicing her duties. It is really so disappointing if our government sees us as the enemy of the state,” Dut told South Sudan in Focus.
South Sudanese journalist David Manyuon says Magot’s arrest and detention has affected the morale of other reporters.
A female journalist who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case said Magot’s arrest makes her feel unsafe while working, adding, “If there is no case open against her and the government is quiet, then who am I to continue to do the job? I feel I am no longer safe because today it may be Diing Magot, and tomorrow it may be me.”