By Jacob K. Lupai
February 14, 2012 (SSNA) — Promoting mutual understanding between the security organs and the media for harmony is a concept borne out of an observation of frosty relations between the two bodies. Recently South Sudan has come under international scrutiny after it detained journalists without charges and in inhumane conditions. A strong demand was made for the release of the journalists and indeed the journalists were released without any formal charge but it was not immediately clear how the journalists were compensated.
The frosty relations between the security organs and the media should not have been the case if there was mutual trust and understanding of the role each played in nation-building for the benefit of all. South Sudan is a young country that needs all its resources to develop into a vibrant nation of which all its citizens are proud. The security organs are to uphold the rule of law and the constitution while the media is to educate the public on pertinent issues of common interest that promote the aspirations of all in nation-building instead of being divisive.
Security organs and media
It will be unfortunate when people see the security organs and the media as two different worlds totally poles apart. The security organs and the media should be seen as complementary in the country’s effort to build a state of freedom and prosperity for all without fear or favour. Quite often and rightly so the security organs assert their role as the guardians of the law and constitution in protecting civil liberties. However, also quite often the security organs are overzealous in asserting their role as the guardians of the law and the constitution. This may be the problem in the at times frosty relations between the security organs and the media. In this context the security organs are represented by security agents who may be mainly the police or the military while the media are represented by journalists or writers. In nation-building the police and the military on one hand and the journalists and writers on the other hand have a vital role to play as citizens sharing failures and successes of the same country. However, a problem arises when the two bodies are working as independent islands unrelated to each other in nation-building. This is especially so when the rule of law and the constitution may be poorly interpreted where the security organs are suspicious of the media while the media in turn are contemptuous of the security organs. In this seemingly tug-of-war between the security organs and the media what may follow is quite often the harassment and intimidation of the media.
Security organs and community
Like the relations between security organs and media, relation between security organs and community may also be frosty. We do not need to go too far to understand why this may be so. According to The Citizen Newspaper of January 25, 2012 Vol. 7 Issue No. 20, a black uniform police unit intercepted three employees of The Citizen and beat them mercilessly with truncheons on their backs despite the display of identity cards. The employees who were not journalists were detained and then released without any formal charges about five hours later. Also on 28 January 2012 at about 4pm a black uniform police unit at a spot between the roundabout with a fountain and Jebel Kujur (Korok) attracted this writer’s attention. Two citizens seemed to have been arrested by the black uniform police unit. One of the two citizens was made to lie down on his back on the bare ground while the other one was made to sit. This also attracted the curiosity of the passers-by who appeared unhappy. It was not clear what was the problem but there would have been a better way of handling the problem in promoting good relations between the security organ and the public. One way was to take the arrested to a police station for any further action.
According to The Pioneer Weekly of November 26 – December 02, 2011 Issue 23 Vol 002, the President of Republic of South Sudan “instructed police officers to establish close relationship with South Sudanese citizens to facilitate cooperation with them in their duties”. The advice of the President on relations between the security organs and the community is clear. The problem seems to be poor communication between senior officers and their juniors on the beat. It may also be that the juniors on the beat simply ignore instructions from their seniors. Either way this does not foster good relations between the security organs and the public. However, regarding the beating up and detention of The Citizen’s employees the brigadier in charge of the black uniform police unit responsible has apologized. This is exemplary and the brigadier deserves the highest commendation possible for being sensitive, courageous and patriotic. How many citizens may have been harassed, intimidated, tortured and even killed without any apology from anyone in disregard to the law and the constitution. What the brigadier has started should be the beginning of truth and reconciliation process for unity in South Sudan.
National and international position on freedom of expression
Laws and constitutions are made to avoid anarchy in maintaining order and harmony in running the affairs of the society in contrast to the concept of the survival of the fittest and the rule of jungle law. On freedom of expression the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 is very clear. Article 24(1) says, “Every citizen shall have the right to the freedom of expression, reception and dissemination of information, publication and access to the press without prejudice to public order, safety or morals as prescribed by law” Article 24(2) says, “All levels of government shall guarantee the freedom of the press and other media as shall be regulated by law in a democratic society”. Although freedom of expression is guaranteed it is also clear that irresponsible media will not find safe haven. However, journalists and writers are highly literate persons that they are aware of their responsibility. The problem is that some semi-literate persons may not even know that the constitution guarantees the freedom of expression. If by accident they know then they abuse their positions.
On arresting a person Article 19(2) of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 says, “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”. How many times have journalists and writers been arrested on the whims of individuals without being informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for their arrest but only to be harassed, intimidated and eventually bundled into a waiting car to be incarcerated without formal charges? This in itself is a violation of human rights according to international charters.
In addition to the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights which entered into force 21 October 1986 says, “Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person. No one may be arbitrarily deprived of this right” and Article 6 says, “Every individual shall have the right to liberty and to the security of his person. No one may be deprived of his freedom except for reasons and conditions previously laid down by law. In particular, no one may be arbitrarily arrested or detained”. The respect for human rights the world over is crystal clear. It is human weakness that seems to be the main problem and with no robust system of check and balance the situation of human rights violation may even be made worse.
Human rights situation in Juba
Juba, the capital of the Republic of South Sudan and also the capital of Central Equatoria State should have been seen as the most privileged in terms of security in protecting human rights. This is because the combined security forces of the Republic and the State should have eradicated insecurity and human rights violation in Juba. However, according to The Pioneer weekly newspaper of December 23 – 29, 2011 Issue 24 Vol 002, “Crime statistics for November this year alone indicate that 41 persons died in the hands of armed and violent felons in Juba. Armed robbery and burglary have become common occurrence in Juba, a development that explains that the affluent among us and residences of foreign embassies, UN agencies and NGOs have become fortresses. One venturing out of safety of home after 10 at night in suburbs such as Munuki or Gudele these days is just courting clear danger”. This sums up the security situation and human rights violation with impunity in Juba. One would have expected that the security organs should have concentrated all efforts in combating the seemingly unstoppable crime wave in Juba that robs people of freedom and hence their human rights.
In addition in Tongping or Juba na Bari First Class Residential Area there are marauding youth who terrorise and support land grabbing in the area. The youth assault people with impunity even making armed security personnel to flee for their own safety leaving civilians unprotected and at the mercy of the marauding unruly youth. Also in the same area the land grabbers are people who have firearms to threaten to shoot and kill legitimate land owners. Court orders are even disregarded by the armed land grabbers. Where on earth are people allowed to use firearms to take people’s property and to disobey the law in a country that has just gained its independence from oppression?
On the Right to Own Property Article 28(1) of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan says, “Every person shall have the right to acquire or own property as regulated by law” and Article 28(2) says, “No private property may be expropriated save by law in the public interest and in consideration for prompt and fair compensation. No private property shall be confiscated save by an order of a court of law”.
Now, where is the protection accorded to the legitimate owners of property such as the land in Tongping where armed criminals grab the land and violate others human rights with impunity in broad-day light in disregard of the law? Where is the rule of law? The continued land grabbing in Juba with no protection accorded to legitimate owners is of concern to law abiding citizens. This has been going on since 2008 or even earlier.
South Sudanese are of one destiny
South Sudanese irrespective of their diversities fought as a people for their destiny. It is therefore right that all should enjoy the fruit of their struggle without any prejudice. The near hundred per cent votes cast for independence were an indication those who were perceived as collaborating with the Jallaba were in fact liberators from within because they suffered the indignities of being southerners. Who in their right minds will blame the criminal land grabbing activity and the high crime wave that robs people of freedom on the Jallaba? It is important to be realistic in order to arrive at an everlasting solution to the problem of nation-building. What is needed are people who are decisive and of action, action and action but not words, words and words.
One way forward in promoting mutual understanding between security agents and the media for harmony is interaction. This can be done in a number of ways. To begin with w workshop will be appropriate. The workshop can either be organized by the Ministry of Interior or the Commission of Human Rights with participants drawn from all security organs, media houses and writers. Papers may be presented on the role of the media in development and the interpretation of the Articles on the freedom of expression in the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011. Interaction and exchanging experience and viewpoints will help in promoting acquaintanceships between security agents on the one hand and the journalists and writers on the other hand. In this way mutual understanding may be promoted with people becoming aware of their roles in nation-building. This may ease the urge for confrontation between security organs and the media. Also identity cards may be accepted as a mode of verifying a person. More often identity cards are disregarded when the urge to arrest someone is strong. Security agents should appreciate the use of identity cards because they show the status of a person where the security agents should then be very careful with whom they are dealing. Some people may be constitutional post holders or very senior officials of government and therefore may need to be treated differently but not like common criminals.
In this context the security agents, journalists and writers are citizens of one country. The difference is in their various roles in serving the country. These roles should not be seen as poles apart because a country needs security and education of its citizens. Security agents, journalists and writers combined therefore have significant roles to play in nation-building.
In conclusion, there is a need to promote mutual understanding between the security organs and the media. This can be achieved through the sharing of interpretation of freedom of expression as stipulated in the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan through conferences, meetings, seminars and workshops. Interaction may help to create an atmosphere of friendship between the security organs and the media in promoting mutual understanding and harmony. What should be known is that people are one serving the one country they hold dear to their hearts. It is therefore unpatriotic to treat each other like enemies.
The author can be reached at [email protected]