Dr. Okuk’s arrest: a miscarriage to rule of law

Quote: “A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on its installment plan” (by Dr. Martin Lutheran King, Jr)

By: Deng Riek Khoryoam, South Sudan

November 5, 2011 (SSNA) — The nascent republic of South Sudan has consciously agreed, by joining the world family, the United Nations assembly; that it will abide by the rule of rule and embrace democratic principles. By joining the world body, it has consciously agreed to ratify all statues signed by all members’ states and thus, it follows logically that RSS has a responsibility and an obligation to follow or observe these principles without any contravention or contradiction. The republic of South Sudan is duty bound to respect these principles and honour its promises to be a faithful and good member of the world family upon joining the UN general Assembly on 14th of July, 2011, 4 days after her formal declaration of independence. The world is keenly watching every single event to see if or whether what we promised in words in front of the whole world is what we are practically doing or the opposite of it!

Dr. James Okuk Solomon, a PhD holder in political philosophy in one of the prestigious world class universities, the University of Nairobi, an outspoken, savvy writer and tough-minded intellectual, was arbitrarily arrested by unknown gunmen (suspected to be security agents) almost three weeks ago in Juba. Although there was no warrant of arrest or formal charges brought against him, it was widely believed that his critique (not critical) writings on the internet, which were seen as critical by those in the president’s camp might have landed him in detention centre in such inhumane conditions. Upon his arrest, when he tried to ask why or the reason for his arrest and whether there was any arrest warrant issued against him, they just threatened him at gunpoint and instead, they drove him away to unknown direction or destination.

That is the implicature that we got from the sources available at the time of his arrest. The often smart outspoken Hon. Onyoti Adigo, MP and official opposition leader in parliament came out bold and audacious as usual, to shed more light on the arrest of this highly educated South Sudanese political scientist. He strongly condemned the act committed by the elements of destruction and at the same time, enemies of peace in South Sudan. This followed condemnations from all quarters of the society. Some hooligan supporters of the king condoned the act and said ‘let James Okuk carry his cross’ since they thought that by criticizing the king, he had already prepared his bed well in advance and therefore, he must now lie on it! But it’s never this anywhere in the world. You don’t subject your political dissents to arbitrary arrests, torture and persecution – all in the name of coercing them into obedience or silence altogether.

This is a sheer political miscalculation and thus a blunder, which would later amount to more political sinfulness. The only way to stay in course and in the right track is to allow political pluralism to flourish as enshrined in the transitional constitution of the republic of the republic of South Sudan, and to also allow people to express whatever is inside them without suppression. Needless to say that freedom of expression and freedom of speech along with other bill of rights are basic human rights that every country or state is obliged under international law, (which is a basis for the national law) to protect and abide by it. The republic of South Sudan is no exception as aforementioned! Part two, article 9 (2) of the transitional constitution of the republic of South Sudan says this “The rights and freedoms of individuals and groups enshrined in this Bill shall be respected, upheld and promoted by all organs and agencies of Government and by all persons. The question that begs an honest answer is whether or not those who arrested Dr. Okuk acted or paid respect to this supreme law of the land?

Further on this, article 14, which talks about equality before the law, has this to say “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law without discrimination as to race, ethnic origin, colour, sex, language, religious creed, political opinion, birth, locality or social status”.

Did anyone bother to act in conformity with this very important provision? I don’t think so. Business is as usual: being oblivious of our own laws – and continue to be hubris on the constitution; and kernel of this all, the bill of rights, which are basic human rights. Deprivation of these universal rights (30, rights under Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is tantamount to denial or deprivation of life!

Article 18 talks about freedom from torture, and says “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment and punishment” Are the so-called ‘security agents’ aware of this provision in the constitution or not? Article 19 on the same bill of rights says this: (1) “An accused person is presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise in accordance with the law. (2) Any person who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his or her arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him or her, (3) In all civil and criminal proceedings, every person shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent court of law in accordance with procedures prescribed by law”.

The question is whether Dr. James Okuk was presumed guilty before being tried in a competent court of law or not?

The other question that a sound-minded person would want to ask is whether Dr. Okuk was informed of the reasons why he was being arrested at the time of his arrest, as prescribed by the law and the charges brought against him?

If the only charge against him was his writings against the king, as we now assume, what about article 24? Was he not exercising his inalienable right to freedom of expression and media? I would think so.  Where is the shameless minister of justice, the chief cook of the constitution? I thought he thinks he knows everything about the interpretation and application of it? What is happening now, when his constitution is blatantly being violated in broad day light without any sense of shame?

In conclusion, what happened to Dr. Okuk was a miscarriage to rule of law – thus a big blow to justice system here in South Sudan!! He could not be wrong or guilty just because he expressed his views freely and in a supposedly democratic environment granted by the constitution. His arrest did not only contravene the provisions of the transitional constitution of the republic of South Sudan but also blatantly violated his rights as a person. It might be safe to say that his arrest was illegal because those who arrested him did not pay respect to the provisions of the constitution duly quoted above, and to which should be the basis for everything deemed to be legal or in accordance with this supreme of the land. One might even concur with what Dr. King Jr has said above with regards to this situation, that a nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on instalment plan. True to this statement, Dr. Okuk was arrested because of his tough-mindedness or because he does not just say ‘yes’ to certain things or policies when it’s not the time to say so. I think the government wants soft-minded people who don’t question why a certain thing is done that way, which in my own humble opinion isn’t desirable!

I don’t think he was targeted because of his political colour or association with the SPLM – DC since this political party is recognized by the law and protected forthwith. For, if belonging to a certain political party is seen as a political sin, then it’s even more safer to say that the government of the day should de-legalize (not de-register because none of the political parties is registered in South Sudan) and it follows logically that the provision that talks of political pluralism be expunged from the constitution. But I want to believe that he was targeted because of his toughness when it comes to analyzing political issues, since he is a political scientist in political philosophy. This is in an attempt to suppress political opponents or dissents, very unfortunate indeed! For those who say Dr. Okuk should carry his cross, you should understand that today it’s Dr. Okuk, tomorrow is somebody else – from among other savvy writers like Dr. Okuk.

I am glad that he’s been released on bail pending his trial, if any! Our justice system is useless and only targeting the weak and unprotected ones. There is no difference between our current security agents with those in Khartoum because they arrest people at will, torture and other cruel or degrading treatments. The fundamental moral question is: will the arbitrary arrest of savvy writers and equally any political opponent coerce people into silent mode or into obedience? It remains to be seen whether that is the motive behind this move and whether it will produce the intended effects or it will just produce the opposite. I would think of the later as a possible scenario!!!

The author lives in South Sudan, he can be reached for comments at [email protected]

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