The UN Human Rights Commission in South Sudan says the government is targeting activists, journalists and their families, restricting their activities, and harassing their jobs and finances.
In a statement of “concern” released this week, the UN Human Rights Commission in South Sudan said the nature of the persecution is hampering the already slow pace of peace between warring factions and stifling public opinion, which is critical to achieving democracy.
“Civil space in South Sudan is collapsing at an accelerated rate, undermining efforts to achieve sustainable peace,” said Yasmin Suka, chair of the commission.
The government rejected the claim, and a spokesman said the commission was spreading a lie.
“This UN Commission on Human Rights, who is watching them?” asked Michael McQuey, Minister of Information of South Sudan. “Who controls them? They just sit in their offices here in Juba and write because they have to write something controversial to prove that they are doing their job so that they can continue their work. “
The commission blames security officials for the ongoing crackdown, which it says has forced some prominent activists to flee the country.
The commission says they include James David Kolok, a member of the technical committee for the Truth, Reconciliation and Healing Consultative Process, and Wani Michael, who served as youth representative on the national constitutional amendment committee.
Andrew Clapham, one of the commissioners, said government harassment of prominent human rights defenders “would have a disincentive effect on civil society and hamper public participation.”
He said the government’s action would undermine confidence in the work on transitional justice, the drafting of the constitution and the holding of national elections, which Clapham said are essential to the success of the transition under the 2018 Renewed Peace Agreement.
The commission says the latest restrictions and harassment began following the creation of the opposition People’s Coalition for Civil Action in July.
Security measures have been stepped up after a planned nationwide government protest in August collapsed amid what activists said was a deliberate shutdown of the internet and warnings from security officials about serious repercussions for organizers should a demonstration take place.
Since then, some activists say their telephones have been disrupted, their bank accounts have been frozen, and journalists say they are increasingly harassed.
A key MP recently said that journalists should limit their coverage of the newly formed parliament.
Agents also detained the government broadcaster after it allegedly refused to broadcast news of recent presidential decrees on the South Sudanese Broadcasting Corporation.
In addition, three journalists were recently detained and a radio station closed as the government suppressed protests in August.
McQuey’s government spokesman says the government could not afford the planned protests of the PCCA, which he called “enemies.”