South Sudan admits censoring news articles deemed hateful

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South Sudan’s government on Friday admitted censoring the media and removing articles it deemed to incite hatred after a UN-backed inquiry detailed “pervasive” restrictions on free press in the troubled country.

Information Minister Michael Makuei said government censorship was a “protective measure” because allowing certain articles to go to print would “cause insecurity (and) we would prefer to take it out.”

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“If the article is inciting hatred, then it ought to be removed,” Makuei, who is also government spokesman, told reporters in the capital Juba after a council of ministers meeting.

“We don’t want to take that author to court. This is why we are removing them.”

His statement comes a day after the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan accused the country’s National Security Service (NSS) of imposing “a pervasive and unlawful censorship regime to curtail independent media”.

In a new report, the commission said newspapers were forced to host NSS officers who interfered by reviewing content prior to publication and cutting articles or withdrawing whole editions.

“Content is frequently censored for giving coverage to views critical of or different to the ruling political party, or for including information that may reflect poorly on government officials and institutions,” it said.

It reported that the NSS in February tried to delay the publication of a report about a massacre on the eve of Pope Francis’s visit to South Sudan, and launched cyberattacks against an outlet that ran the story.

Makuei said the conditions for media in South Sudan had improved, and the commission had not adequately incorporated this into its report.

He also said the government would be forced to take journalists to court if the state allowed inflammatory articles to be published.

“If you want us to take people to court, we are ready to do that,” Makuei said.

“Because we believe that removing the article and keeping quiet is better than taking that person to court.”

The commission warned that the government’s “deep-seated aversion to public scrutiny” bode ill for elections expected in late 2024, the country’s first since South Sudan achieved independence from Sudan in 2011.

South Sudan fought a bloody civil war between 2013 and 2018 that ended with a peace deal, but key tenets of the truce have not been respected and the country’s democratic transition has stalled.

The government this week announced it planned to investigate the death of American journalist Christopher Allen who was killed in 2017 while covering the war, after years of pressure from the United States, Britain, and media advocacy groups.

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