Two employees of a South Sudan pro-democracy group were arrested on Wednesday, the non-profit’s chief said, warning of a widening crackdown on rights activists in the conflict-wracked country.
The world’s newest nation has suffered from chronic instability since independence in 2011, with a coalition of civil society groups urging the government to step down, saying they have “had enough.”
The authorities have taken a tough line against such demands, arresting at least eight activists and detaining three journalists last month, according to rights groups, while five people who had planned to join an anti-government protest on Monday have gone into hiding.
On Wednesday, police arrested two people working for the Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance (FODAG), the organization’s executive director Jame David Kolok told AFP.
Kolok said many activists fear for their lives as the government clamps down on freedoms following last month’s call by the People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) urging a peaceful public uprising.
“Since the declaration by the PCCA the authorities have been suspicious of some of us as activists and this is being taken as an opportunity to literally kill activism in South Sudan,” he said.
“We are in a very serious stage of dealing away with freedoms, dealing away with activism and dealing away with people who speak out on issues of national importance,” he added.
Efforts to reach the police and government spokespersons for comments were unsuccessful.
Organizers had urged the public to come out in force for Monday’s protests in the capital Juba, but the city’s streets fell silent as heavily-armed security forces patrolled usually busy neighborhoods and activists fled into hiding.
The demonstration was set to take place the same day as President Salva Kiir inaugurated a newly-created national parliament, a key condition of a 2018 peace deal that ended the country’s brutal civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people.
The peace process has suffered from years of drift and bickering following the ceasefire and power-sharing deal between Kiir and his former foe Vice President Riek Machar.
The PCCA – a broad-based coalition of activists, academics, lawyers and former government officials – has described the current regime as “a bankrupt political system that has become so dangerous and has subjected our people to immense suffering.”