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South Sudan: Sweeping powers in National Security Service Bill will undermine free expression

An
An "On Air" red light is seen inside the Bakhita Radio station in Juba, South Sudan, 28 May 2012

REUTERS/Adriane Ohanesian

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) is deeply concerned about a National Security Service bill waiting to be passed by the parliament of South Sudan, and is calling on parliament to reject it. The bill, if passed, will give broad powers to the National Security Service to detain people without warrant or charge.

AFEX is worried that the bill will worsen the existing freedom of expression situation in the country. The provisions in it grant the National Security Service unrestricted powers, which could lead to a complete crackdown on media freedom and freedom of expression.

Article 50 of the bill reads, “An officer or member authorized by the Minister or Director General concerned may, without warrant, arrest any person if such officer or member reasonably suspects that the person to be arrested has committed or is about to commit an offence punishable by law.”

The bill also gives members of the National Security Service “all powers of the police” as defined under police service law or criminal procedure laws. It allows the National Security Service to prevent detainees from contacting their families or lawyers upon arrest if such communication is deemed to “prejudice progress of any inquiry or investigation of the case.”

The National Security Service will also be mandated to monitor communications systems, newspapers and radio stations “in respect to security interest so as to prevent misuse by users.” Commissioned officers of the National Security Service will be required to take an oath before the president, swearing their obedience.

Urging the Parliament of South Sudan not to pass the bill, the Chair of the AFEX Steering Committee, Ms Zoe Titus, who is also the Regional Director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), said: “The Government of South Sudan must make a determined effort to build the country on a foundation of sound democratic principles and practice as well as respect for fundamental rights and freedoms if the recent independence of the country is to have any meaning for ordinary citizens. An approach to governance which seeks to repress citizens and violate their rights with impunity will only make a mockery of the years of struggle for independence.”

AFEX recalls that since South Sudan gained independence in 2011, the government has failed to pass key laws to protect freedom of expression. The National Security Service (NSS) has operated with no legal mandate, clamping down on the media, journalists and other freedom of expression activists, thereby creating an atmosphere of fear. AFEX also recalls the arbitrary arrest, harassment, intimidation and detention of journalists and other freedom of expression activists, which have since characterised the period.

AFEX sees the passage of the bill as a calculated effort to undermine Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 9 of the African Union Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which guarantee freedom of expression for every individual.

AFEX, therefore, calls on South Sudan's Parliament to reject the bill. Furthermore, in conformity with the Declaration of Principles on Freedom and Expression in Africa, adopted by the African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights in 2002, AFEX calls on parliament to ensure practical access to the bill by citizens across the country and provide them with real opportunities to make input into such prospective laws as a way of improving public participation in the legislative process.

ABOUT AFEX

AFEX is a continental network of the most prominent African freedom of expression organisations who are also members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), the global network of free expression organisations. The network is currently made up of nine organisations based in West, East, Central and Southern Africa. AFEX works to increase the effectiveness of its members and to enhance the impact of their work in addressing freedom of expression challenges in Africa.

Learn more about AFEX and its members by visiting www.africafex.org

Media Foundation for West Africa
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
Journaliste en danger
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
National Union of Somali Journalists
West African Journalists Association
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • South Sudan: Flawed security bill headed for vote

    The security service has operated without a legal basis since South Sudan’s independence. Human Rights Watch has documented serious security service violations such as arbitrary detentions of people for their perceived political views, and of journalists. Following the outbreak of new conflict in South Sudan in December 2013, the security service increased censorship and detained several journalists, creating an atmosphere of fear for journalists and independent groups.



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