Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the situation in South Sudan where President Salva Kiir, speaking at a news conference on 16 August, threatened to have journalists murdered if they “work against their country” and where reporter Peter Moi was gunned down outside his office in the capital three days later.
Brushing aside criticism of media freedom violations at the press conference, President Kiir said: “Freedom of press does not mean that you work against your country. And if anybody among them does not know this country has killed people, we will demonstrate it one day on them.”
As far as death threats go, nothing could be clearer.
An employee of The Cooperate Newspaper and New Nation (a digital media outlet), Moi was shot dead yesterday by unidentified gunmen as he left his office to go home. His killers did not take his money or his mobile phone. The Union of Journalists of South Sudan called his death an intentional killing.
Although Moi’s murder cannot, for the time being, be directly linked to his journalistic work or President Kiir’s comment, it comes against a backdrop of extreme violence for journalists in South Sudan.
“It is absolutely criminal for a president to threaten his country’s journalists with death,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“Certain words can kill, especially when uttered by a president. We urge Salva Kiir to quickly retract his comments and to issue a strong statement condemning crimes of violence against journalists. He has clearly played a role in the decline in the general security situation for journalists.
Deloire added: “As regards Peter Moi’s murder, South Sudan’s authorities must ensure that an independent, impartial and thorough investigation is carried out in order to quickly provide Moi’s family with answers.”
Moi was the seventh journalist to be murdered in South Sudan since the start of the year. The most recent previous victim was radio journalist Tamazuj James Raeth, whose 20 May murder has yet to be solved.
Ever since the start of South Sudan’s civil war in December 2013, President Kiir’s government has resolutely sacrificed freedom of information in the pursuit of “security.” South Sudan is ranked 125th out of 180 countries in the press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders published in February.