An assessment of threats to media freedom in South Sudan during the Covid-19 pandemic

South Sudan, recovering from years of conflict, achieved its independence in July 2011. The country’s nascent media industry is still being developed although, the relations between the media and other institutions, particularly the law enforcement agencies, are edgy at times.

These relations are being ironed out through direct interactions between the parties involved. Whereas the media industry in South Sudan has been facing uncountable challenges ranging from political, social, cultural and economic hardships, the Covid-19 pandemic has deleteriously impacted the country’s media industry.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19 pandemic) in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 which later spread to the African continent in early February 2020 when Egypt registered its first case, paused challenges to different structures of the African economies.3 So far, over 5.5 million people across the world have died of this contagion, and out of the 5 million, over 236,000 are natives of Africa.

The media that opt to be free and independent to foster public debate, shape opinions, set agendas and inform the world has been extremely affected by the pandemic.

In many African regimes and other undemocratic governments around the world, the pandemic was used as an opportunity to move their agendas and promote individual interests. In the initial days of the outbreak of Covid-19, press freedom in many African countries was left at stake.

Media houses were reported to have closed down, journalists arrested and detained, and other threats by political regimes catalyzed by Covid-19. The constant brutality on communities that are meant to be protected has been the order of the day in many countries, and journalists who would be on standby to report cases of violation of human rights have not been spared in the difficult times.

Threats to journalists started taking forth in South Sudan in April 2020 when the country registered its first case of Covid-19.5 Since then, the country has reported threats to press freedom and the media including job insecurity, pay cuts, physical assault, arrest, and detention, denial of access to information, insults, cyber harassment, torture of journalists, and court charges.

The year 2020 and the rest of the pandemic period in South Sudan have been marked by conflict, security forces’ violations, entrenched impunity, and a lack of respect for rule of law, all of which were enhanced by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Media freedom and rights of journalists have not been spared during the critical times when the media and the health sectors have to cooperate to inform, educate and sensitize the population about the novel coronavirus

Authorities continued to arbitrarily detain critics, including members of civil society and journalists, often holding them for extended periods without charge or trial.  According to Freedom House, in December 2022, the United Nations reported that at least five journalists were arbitrarily arrested and detained during a September-to-November reporting period.

In South Sudan, although the transitional constitution guarantees the freedom of the press, it is highly doubted if this law is followed. The government censors, harasses, and arrests journalists, especially those critical of the government.

In January 2020, the National Security Service (NSS) detained radio journalist Ijoo Mosco for reporting on US sanctions against then first vice president Taban Deng Gai. Mosco was released several days later after reportedly apologizing, and threatening to live the county. In February, security agents in Maridi State detained journalist Isaac Van for reporting on corruption allegations against a local football association, but Van was released without charge. This report documents press freedom violations during 2020, the first year of Covid-19 in Africa.

Download report: Responding to Threats to Press Freedom and the Media in a Time of Crisis


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