The National Security Service (NSS) of South Sudan have arrested and detained Emmanuel Monychol Akop, the managing editor of The Dawn newspaper after he answered a summons on October 21 to appear at the security service headquarters in Jebel neighbourhood of Juba.
Credible sources told Human Rights Watch that Monychol’s arrest appears to be linked to an October 15 Facebook post in which he poked fun at the dress worn by the foreign affairs and international cooperation minister, Awut Deng Achuil.
“Emmanuel Monychol’s detention is just the latest act of harassment by South Sudanese authorities in response to criticism or perceived dissent,” said MausiSegun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately release him unless he has been charged with a recognizable offense.”
Four days after Monychol’s arrest, he was released on bail to attend the burial of a relative and other family functions. He responded to a second security service summons on November 4 and has been in custody ever since.
Monychol’s detention appears to be part of a broader crackdown by South Sudanese authorities to silence criticism by the media, nongovernmental groups, opposition parties, and National Assembly members.
Since conflict broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, the NSS has spread a climate of fear and terror, targeting critics and perceived dissidents with arbitrary arrest and detention and torture and other ill-treatment.
This has led to self-censorship in which human rights activists, journalists, critics of the government, and ordinary people no longer feel safe to speak freely and openly about topics deemed controversial.
The National Security Service Act (2015) grants the security agency sweeping powers to arrest, detain, conduct searches, and seize property. The law, however, requires the NSS to bring detainees before a magistrate or judge within 24 hours of their detention. Detainees under NSS detention are often kept in poor conditions including in congested cells with inadequate access to food, water, and medical care.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on South Sudanese authorities to ensure that the NSS powers are limited to intelligence gathering, as envisioned by the Transitional Constitution of 2011, which mandates the agency to “focus on information gathering, analysis and to advice the relevant authorities.”
Human Rights Watch has recommended that the powers to arrest, detain, conduct searches, seize property, and use force be excluded from the agency’s authority, and should instead be exercised by an appropriate law enforcement agency. (Source: HRW)