Rights groups want repressive South Sudan law changed

NATION MEDIA GROUP, JOSEPH ODUHA in Juba Friday, March 18 2016;

Human rights agencies in South Sudan want the controversial 2014 National Security law reviewed.

They expressed the sentiments on Friday in Juba during a seminar organised by the Agency for Independent Media (AIM).

The meeting brought together media stakeholders to brainstorm and help find solutions to the problems related to the freedom of expression in the nascent state

South Sudan has in the recent past experienced an upsurge in kidnappings and harassment of journalists.

Peace agreement

The acting chairman of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission (SSHRC), Mr Nyuol Justin Yaac, confirmed that the commission had received numerous complaints on the harassment of journalists, all blamed on the national security agencies.

Mr Yaac said the recent peace agreement provided an opportunity for change, including the drafting of constitution to replace the current transitional one that has been in force since 2005.

“As per the current peace deal, there is a process to develop a permanent constitution and that creates an opportunity to change many laws, ” Mr Yaac said, urging the lawmakers to seize the moment to repeal the repressive security law.

Sweeping powers

The controversial law grants the National Security Service (NSS) sweeping powers to arrest, detain, seize property and conduct searches on individuals or corporates.

The Amnesty International described the law as “fundamentally flawed”, and against domestic and international rights.

Mr Yaac lamented that elements within the national security had manipulated the law to detain, arrest, conduct searches and torture journalists.

A vacuum

“Once, we get the legislation right, it is easier to deal with those wrong elements, but without the right legislation, there will always be a vacuum to be exploited for irresponsible journalism and abuse of human rights by security agencies,” he said.

“South Sudan is not under emergency law and constitution must be respected,” Mr Yacc said.

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