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South Sudan journalists' union says two members detained

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – South Sudan’s journalists’ union said on Tuesday that security agents had detained two of its members in the past two weeks.

It said agents had detained Michael Christopher, the editor in chief of Arabic language daily newspaper Al Watan on July 17, and confiscated his passport while he prepared to board a flight to neighbouring Kenya. It said he had been held since then without any charge.

The Union of Journalists of South Sudan said security officers had also arrested John Agok, a journalist working with a radio station in Eastern Lakes State on July 10, as he too prepared to board a flight to Nairobi.

Rights activists say there is an increasingly hostile and restrictive approach by the government towards the media in the world’s youngest country.

Government officials and police were not immediately available to comment on the detentions.

Christopher’s wife, Ralita Rial, said no clear reason was given for his arrest. 

“We don’t know the reasons for his arrest and no one from the national security can tell us exactly. I visited him last Thursday at the national security detention,” Rial told Reuters.

Oliver Modi, the union’s chairman, said Christopher’s detention arose from an article his newspaper wrote about events in neighbouring Sudan, where months of protests, triggered by years of economic crisis helped end Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule in April.

“The Union of Journalists of South Sudan condemns the unlawful detention of two separate cases by those who arrested these two journalists. The perpetrators have acted completely contrary to the rights of the journalists and freedom of media,” he told Reuters.

South Sudan plunged into civil conflict in December 2013, after clashes between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. Since then, more than 4.5 million have been forced to flee their homes.

After a string of failed agreements, the two main warring parties signed a deal last September. In May, the two sides agreed to give themselves six more months to form a unity government as part of the deal.

(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Alison Williams)

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